Chronic Pain In A Culture of Intolerance


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Being a Health advocate/activist” for people like myself, who live with chronic pain; is becoming more of a challenge.  I’m feeling both proactive and protective.  I want to help change the way society and the government thinks about chronic pain and the persons living with the daily struggles from it. I also want to help put a more positive spin on something that is very difficult to stay positive about.  While Governor Chris Christie is becoming the “drug Czar”; he is talking about changing  many lives in a negative way.  Our President is putting persons in charge of what he has only heard of as “the Opioid Epidemic”.  He listens to what others tell him and he reads about statistics or numbers of deaths; not the number of “people who have died”.   Those are people who have passed away not numbers on a screen. These people each have or had their own story to tell and nobody was listening.  I’m trying to get someone to listen to us.   As a chronic pain patient myself, I can say that we feel like the rules of the “game” are being changed, without talking to any of the real players.  When you only are only told one side of a story over and over again; you are not going to get the whole truth or the entire story.  When the President or the Governor talks with people who have lost someone that they love due to a “drug overdose”; then that is the way the story is going to spin.  There are journalists who have lost someone they love, to a drug overdose and they are writing over and over again about the “horrors of the Opioid epidemic”. There are reporters who are speaking against Opioids on the Television and producers making short films about “The Oxycontin Express”.  I can only say that if I was misinformed and heartbroken, that I might do the same thing. But I’m not misinformed and I honestly feel that if I lost someone to an overdose, I would still try not to hurt anyone else while I was in mourning. I wouldn’t try to “punish the whole class for the behavior of one”. I would not want to go on a mission to try and “save everyone else” (while hurting so many and possibly not even knowing) to make myself feel better.

I turned on the TV the other night and one of the news stations had a week long special about “the Opioid Epidemic”. I was yelling at the screen and telling them that they hadn’t a clue! The person they had on as a guest, was someone who had broken his leg, had surgery and had become an Opioid addict! That is not the same thing as someone living with daily chronic pain and knowing that  life will always be this way.  Persons like me who live with chronic pain day in and day out, do need to try physical therapy, and other first choice treatments available.  We realize that we need to give different options a chance.  But when a patient with several high pain illnesses has tried many alternatives; and is not a candidate for other options;  then they/we need reassurance.  We need to know that the medications that many of us have taken for several years and that give some semblance of a life; are going to remain available and nobody will rip the rug out from under us!

I am in a group of people called “chronic pain patients”. We are not drug addicts! The definition of an addict, according to the Dictionary (on Definitions.com) is this:  “to devote or surrender oneself to something habitually or obsessively”.  I can speak for myself and the hundreds of chronic pain support group members that I mentor.  We  take only the medications prescribed to us by our physicians and/or Pain Management Physicians.  To clarify, I will explain further the difference between the addict and the pain patient.  The majority of chronic pain patients take their prescription pain medications (or Opioids) responsibly.  The medications for pain are taken per the instructions of a legitimate pain management physician or well known doctor.  Long time pain patients continue on a steady dose of pain medications and do not crave more than that. In fact, the truth is that just about all chronic pain patients, myself included, don’t want to be on the medications that we are taking.  On the other hand, an addict has thoughts about their medications/drugs constantly and overwhelmingly.  They can’t function because they’re thinking about their next dose all day long.

I read an article awhile back called “The Word is Credibility-Not Stigma-in the Prescription Opioid/Heroin Epidemic”; that really hit a nerve with me.  It upset me because the writer puts down the responsible chronic pain patients and “lumps” us together in the same category as heroin addicts.  She wrote about the deaths of people who have overdosed.  But how many of those deaths were people who took only their prescribed dosage of pain medications?  I read another article in which the writer (*Denise Molohon, a guest columnist for PNN January-2016)) stated that “the CDC even admits to giving out skewed data”.  The CDC has qualifiers for their “Morbidity and Mortality weekly report.  She researched the information that she was given and found that those qualifiers are as follows:

  • “approximately 1/5 of drug overdose deaths lack information on the specific drugs involved. Some of these deaths might involve opioids.”
  • “Heroin deaths might be misclassified as morphine because morphine and heroin are metabolized similarly, which might result in an underreporting of heroin overdose deaths”

The writer also stated that “if heroin deaths are being misclassified as morphine, which results in the “underreporting” of heroin overdose deaths, then wouldn’t the opposite also be true? That there is “over-reporting” of morphine deaths, which are then misclassified as prescription Opioid deaths?”  Also, when we are reading or hearing reports about fentanyl overdose deaths; most of those deaths are from street drugs fentanyl and not the prescription pain medication.  We just can’t lump medications and street drugs together, that is irresponsible.  Only “5% of people who are prescribed Opioid pain medications, go on to become addicted”,  according to our own National Pain Report in November 2015.  As a legitimate chronic pain patient, I can verify that we only take pain medications to be relieved of horrible daily chronic pain, nerve pain and the pain from such illnesses as CRPS plus many others.  We don’t become “addicted” to our prescription pain medications.  Our bodies may become tolerant or “dependent”, but  we are not addicts.

There are support systems such as the U.S. Pain Foundation and RSDSA who encourage the chronic pain patients to not be hopeless.  They empower us and encourage us to do whatever we can do but never more than that.  We have a voice and it needs to be heard.  Anyone who hasn’t experienced chronic pain first hand or even as a caregiver, hasn’t any idea what it’s like to be in horrible pain 24/7/365.  When you are finally given something to alleviate that pain somewhat (but never 100%), it is a relief.  But then because of the people or groups who are working very hard to take our pain medications away, we become fearful each month that goes by.  We fear that one method that helps us to get out of bed each morning without writhing in pain, crying and screaming out in horrible nerve pain; could be taken away at any moment.

I feel that people who are doing this are doing it for the wrong reasons.  People need to be educated regarding Opioids instead of being afraid of them.  There are some chronic pain patients who are not candidates for other types of pain control, such as the pain pump or the spinal cord stimulater (SCS).  Taking a medication away that helps so many pain patients to just put their feet on the ground in the morning, seems cruel.  Hurting someone because you have felt “wronged”, is just terrible. There needs to be some kind of shelter from the world of intolerance.

 

 

 

 

 

     Dear Mr. President 


March 12, 2017

President Donald J. TrumpThe White House1600 Pennsylvania AveWashington, DC. 20500

Dear Mr. President,

My name is Suzanne Stewart and I urgently need your attention please, Mr. President. I’m so sorry for all that is happening these days that is making it so difficult for all of us and for you as the President. I know goodness will prevail. I need your help on behalf of millions of real and true Chronic Pain patients. Please don’t stop reading this letter now because of those words. For some reason they seem to make people nervous. Let me explain briefly, what I am asking from you.  Mr. President, so many chronic pain patients in these United States of America are really and truly in horrific pain on a daily basis. I live with a horrible nerve disease called “RSD/CRPS” and aka “Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy” and “Complex Regional pain Syndrome”. It is #43 on the McGill pain index; only superseded by terminal cancer and about as painful as the amputation of a finger without anesthesia. There are many very real painful illnesses out there and I have several of them, following a car accident in 2002. A man ran through a red light and totaled not only my car but my body as well. I have had 8 surgeries and after the 7th, I was diagnosed with RSD/CRPS. In 2013, I was supposed to have a pacemaker replaced, but instead I ended up with a total pectoral muscle reconstruction surgery. The Dr. tried to head off “full body/systemic” CRPS, but it did not work for me. I now live with full body, systemic, CRPS disseminated and severe. I also have several herniated/bulging cervical and lumbar discs with Degenerative Disc Disease, Arnold Chiari Malformation I, with Chiari migraines and Polyneuropathy in Collagen Vascular Disease (which is equal to Ehler’s Danlos Syndrome type 4-Vascular, or EDS-4) and there’s more but I don’t want to belabor this subject.

There are many Americans who live with daily chronic pain illnesses and we implore you for help. The CDC and DEA and “Big Brother” Pharma companies are trying to “hurt” the American chronic pain people. We need your help and the help of Tom Price, the HHS person, who you chose because he would do a good job, right? Please help us, your pain community to not lose the medications that many need so badly. We seem to be losing our medications because of heroin addicts being “lumped together” with us. Every time a celebrity dies of an overdose, they blame it on the pain meds and not the misuse and abuse of pain medications along with the use of recreational street drugs. You are an NRA spokesperson and you believe in the constitutional right of the “right to bear arms”. Then you need to believe in the right of the established and true chronic pain patients, to have the right to take the appropriate pain medications that have been prescribed diligently by their Physicians and/or Pain Physicians. No Dr. should be afraid to prescribe Opioid pain medications to their patients because of repercussions from the CDC or DEA. But our Physicians are leaving in droves because of all of the “uproar” about an “Opioid epidemic”. Senators, Joe Manchin (D-WV), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Angus King (I-ME), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Elizabeth Warren, (D-MA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) proposed a “Budgeting for Opioid Addiction Treatment Act” (aka “LifeBoat Act”), to force chronic pain patients pay a tax, called “the Lifeboat tax”. It would have meant that pain patients would have to pay .01 cent for each milligram of Opioid pain medication that they take on a daily basis! This money was then going to be used for addiction treatment centers! This is not right, just as that tax on medical devices was and is completely wrong and punishing people for being ill.
Mr. President, we are not addicts and we are not “addicted” to our medications. We only use them for pain control. If you ask most true chronic pain patients, they would tell you that they hate taking the medications and wish we did not have to depend on it. This is the key word, sir, and that is “dependent”! We are not addicted to our medications and we do not get cravings nor do we get “high” from them. An addict seeks out their drugs at any cost and looks forward to taking them because of the “high” they get. As pain patients who take our medications responsibly, we get some kind of relief from the daily chronic pain that we live with. Imagine that just taking a shower, takes so much out of you because of the pain? Just showering and possibly doing our hair and brushing our teeth makes it so that we cannot schedule anything else that day! We are “dependent” yes, but NOT “addicted” to our medications. We need the physician / patient relationship to choose what is necessary and best for our pain control. The P.R.O.P. Dr.’s who are against Opioids and others against them, are just misinformed and some want to make money off of us. Some of those against Opioids for pain control, don’t want us to take them because they own treatment centers. They get money from chronic pain patients who are then treated as “addicts”. Some pain patients go there because its a last resort and nobody will help anymore. So many Dr’s are leaving and afraid because they aren’t able to prescribe anymore and not even for the true persons living with real and true pain on a daily basis.
Mr. President, please help us. I understand there are people who die from overdoses. But those people need help with depression maybe? They are fearful that the life that they have known with a little bit of pain control from the Opioids for years, is going to or has been ripped away from them? People are being told that they will have to go to the Dr or the pharmacy every 5 days in order to get a prescription for pain medications. Well that is just ludicrous because most of us can’t even drive or drive very far. We don’t feel well enough to get out and go to the Dr’s office every 5 days. Would they ask a Diabetic to do that? NO! They would not do that to a High blood pressure patient or a heart patient either. I take Beta Blockers and I cannot go off of them abruptly, or I could die or have a heart attack. People are being taken off of their Opioid pain medication during one visit to the Dr’s office. Often it’s a Dr. that they’ve gone to for years and where they are known and believed. But because of this “fake fear” in the people and the government right now, Dr’s are taking away the little bit of life that some have left by taking the pain meds away.
I am an Ambassador for the U.S. Pain Foundation, sir; and I am a patient health advocate. I do public speaking, write for the National Pain Report and I am a patient leader for WEGO health. I am completely disabled and depending on the day, I use a wheelchair, walker, motorized scooter or a cane. I described several of my health issues above, but there are more, in that I had a CVA in 2006 and an M.I. in 2005. My pain is much lessened due to the medication that I take. I have been living with several high chronic pain illnesses since 2002. I’ve tried so many different medications and many other treatment modalities. I also have an Immune deficiency illness that prevents me from being a candidate for a Spinal cord stimulator or a intrathecal pain pump as well. I don’t think anyone should be FORCED to have an invasive surgery in their spine or anywhere for that matter; when a pill with little side effects could help them so much. But you see, the money is in the surgeries and the Spinal cord stimulators and pain pumps. Mr. President, I am imploring you to help me and the 100 million other chronic pain patients in the USA, who are diligent and who take the medications responsibly. Please help us to be allowed to continue our pain medication regiment. The only thing that these proposed strict rules will do; is to turn chronic pain patients to the streets and then many more will die from getting the wrong kind of pain medications mixed with “who knows what”? Its just as the NRA says that the “bad guys will still have guns” if you take the guns away and make them illegal. The good pain patients who are left with no other choice; I feel, will be desperate. I’m begging you sir, please read my letter and please talk to me if you’d like. I’ll do anything to help my fellow pain warriors and myself. We need your help to understand that we are “chronic pain patients” and not “addicts”! We are just real people with true high pain illnesses. Please have Mr. Price to talk to pain patients like me and listen to the U.S. Pain Foundation’s ideas. We believe that something needs to be done. I don’t mind if they make medications that cannot be crushed, melted or changed in any way. That would help to keep the drug addicts from melting or chewing it in order to get high. But please see the difference between pain patients and drug addicts. Help us, the true chronic pain patients not lose our medications that give us some semblance of a life with our families.
Sincerely,
Suzanne Stewart

Ambassador, MI- U.S. Pain Foundation Author/Blogger, Patient Mentor RSDSA, Patient Advocate, Patient Leader WEGO Health

CC: Tom Price, Health and Human Services 200 Independence Ave SW,           Washington, DC. 20201