A Pained Life: Speak Up, Speak Out

By Carol Levy, Columnist

I saw an advertisement on TV a few days ago. It was for some sort of a patch they were hawking for those with pain.

The testimonials were typical: "I use it and it's wonderful," said one man. "I recommend it highly," says a woman.

One testimonial really caught my attention: "I use it because I don't want to become addicted to pain medication."

So now the lie is even in TV commercials: Pain medication leads to addiction. And that should be your first thought and worry.

Never mind the reality that few people who use opioids for pain management become addicted. The lie has taken hold and is now part of the myth and stereotype; there is an epidemic of painkiller abuse and overdoses, and pain patients are on their way to addiction when they use these medications.

What bothers me about this, other than the spread of and belief in the lie, is the too many posts from members of chronic pain groups who have bought into the mythology and do not understand the difference between addiction and dependence.

They write they were on such and such a medication, often non-narcotic drugs like Lyrica, Cymbalta or anti-convulsants; drugs that do not have addictive properties.

"I have tried to get off it but I get sick when I do. Could I be addicted?"

No. Not from the poster's words. It may be physical dependence, which is nothing to be sneezed at. It is a bad problem and requires hard work to get off the medication. But that does not make it addiction.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction behavior as an “inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response.”

PainEDU.org defines dependence as a “state of adaptation that is manifested by a drug class-specific withdrawal syndrome that can be produced by abrupt cessation, rapid dose reduction, decreasing blood level of the drug, and/or administration of an antagonist.”

I cannot recall every reading or talking with people in chronic pain who said liked the narcotics they were prescribed. No one has ever said to me, "Wow. I love the way this drug makes me feel."

They may write or say the opioid has helped reduce their pain and that makes them happy, but invariably this lament usually follows: "But I hate the way it make me feel. Foggy, dry mouthed, and slow."

I hate writing and saying this because we have so much on our plates already, just getting through a day with pain, but we have to be the advocates. We have to get out the word that we do not take these drugs for fun. For some of us they are truly life savers. And yet it is our voice that seems to be absent in the midst of all the media hoopla and sensationalism.  

It is past time for us to take up our pens and raise our voices. We are the ones who get hurt by the misinformation. It is up to us to change the conversation.

Carol Jay Levy has lived with trigeminal neuralgia, a chronic facial pain disorder, for over 30 years. She is the author of “A Pained Life, A Chronic Pain Journey.” 

Carol is the moderator of the Facebook support group “Women in Pain Awareness.” Her blog “The Pained Life” can be found here.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.