The Stigma Between Opioids and Chronic Pain
Chronic pain is the way of life for many Americans today. It is estimated that at least 100 million adults in the United States suffer from common chronic pain conditions. This is more than the number of people affected by heart disease, diabetes and cancer combined.
Chronic pain is pain that lasts longer than 90 days. Common causes include the following:
- Disease or injury
- Medical treatments like surgery
- Nervous system disorders
Lower back pain, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, migraines, carpal tunnel syndrome and fibromyalgia are the most common types of chronic pain.
For pain sufferers, the effects of these health issues can be devastating both physically and mentally. In addition to being a leading cause of long-term disability, chronic pain sufferers often deal with depression, anxiety, decreased mobility and sleep disturbances.
In order to help ease the discomfort, many physicians began prescribing opioids to their patients. While this was originally thought to be a good idea, the public perception of opioid use has changed to a more negative tone. As a result, many states have begun to limit opioid prescriptions, much to the chagrin of chronic pain sufferers.
Opioid Myths and Facts
As opioid use rises, the myths and false information about its users have increased as well:
Myth: Those seeking prescription for pain are drug seekers.
Fact: Many people are using them to combat the intense pain they feel daily. By restricting the number of prescriptions a person can have or eliminating their use altogether, those with legitimate pain may have fewer places to turn for relief.
Myth: There are many low cost pain reduction treatments available.
Fact: Many alternate pain treatments such as acupuncture and physical therapy have $50 copays. This can become costly if a person goes for treatment several times per week or if they are unable to work and lose their health coverage.
Myth: By limit the prescription of opioids, their abuse will decrease as well.
A Growing Dilemma
While overdosing is a real concern, there is another problem that needs to be addressed as well: those who commit suicide due to the chronic pain that becomes too much to bear. Many of these suicides are because of the collateral damage chronic pain can possibly cause: depression, financial problems, mental illness or drug and alcohol abuse. Chronic pain and its damaging effects are far reaching. Not only is this silent epidemic affecting the person in pain, it can have a tremendous impact on that person’s family and loved ones.
In order to properly address the opioid epidemic, it’s important to get to the source of the problem, which is chronic pain and the cause of that pain. While limiting the use of opioids may be a good idea, that doesn’t solve the underlying problem. As long as people are in pain, they will do almost anything to make it go away. It’s critical that healthier (and affordable) options to alleviate the pain be available for them.