Media Coverage of Pain Meds Often Unfair

By Emily Ullrich, Guest Columnist

As a chronic pain patient, I see a number of damaging political and social obstacles being added to the already desperate, often isolated and depressed lives of chronic pain patients.

Those of us who live with constant pain are too often disregarded by friends and family, who become frustrated that we haven’t gotten better, and/or begin to suspect that we are feigning or exaggerating our illness. In addition, doctors often label chronic pain patients as “drug seekers” and “malingerers.” Patients who need their help the most are often thrown by the wayside.

On top of these devastating blows, chronic pain patients face political, medical, social, and media scrutiny, and are often shamed out of seeking or pressing for the help they so desperately need. Some glaring mistakes are being reported in the media about drug use, overdose, and abuse. These mistakes are being repeated on a national level, and have created a culture of misinformation and stigma.

There is no doubt that addiction and overdose are serious issues which deserve our attention, but the media is manipulating the minds of consumers about the origin and nature of these issues, beginning with the subtle engineering and general processing of words. By that I mean the simple diction and placement of words used in articles regarding pain medication and illegal drugs.

For example, while an article discussing diabetes or blood pressure medication will refer to them as “medicine,” an article about pain medications will often refer to them as “drugs.” That places a negative connotation on the reader's perception of ALL pain medications as being categorically the same as street drugs.

I also read articles on a daily basis which pair pain medications and illegal drugs together in broad general statements, implying that the two are synonymous. In addition, the terms and implications about the use and abuse of pain medications are being used interchangeably; again reiterating in the minds of readers that if one takes pain medications, he or she is an addict, and that by simply taking pain medications he or she is abusing them.

These implications are untrue, unfair, and misrepresent chronic pain patients, misinform the public, and create unnecessary fear and sensationalism.

Like thousands of other chronically ill, legitimate pain patients in Kentucky and throughout the United States, I have been taking pain medication for many years. Without it, I cannot get out of bed and function. I have never once been "high" on them, and I've NEVER considered heroin use.

The real correlation between the two is that pain patients are being forced to fend for themselves and find relief on the streets with drugs like heroin. The government has scared doctors out of doing their jobs when it comes to addressing pain, and because of the media's continued manipulation and sensationalism in regard to pain medication, society now shames pain patients out of seeking medications they need.

There is an essential truth being conveniently omitted from most current articles regarding pain medication, street drugs and overdose, and that is that there is a direct correlation to the increase in heroin use and the implementation of growing numbers of laws that restrict prescription pain medications.

People are suffering, but instead of being treated with compassion, they are being treated like criminals and worthless members of society. Legitimate pain patients deserve access to the medications which allow them to operate, and doctors should not be afraid to help them. Patients should also not be made to feel they are illicit members of society for seeking a remedy to their medical conditions.

It is time that the media clearly differentiate between addicts who abuse pain medication and legitimate pain patients who use their medications as directed. Also, lines between pain medication use and the use of street drugs must be drawn.

Most importantly, politicians across the country must accept their role in the influx of heroin usage, and its direct correlation to the “War on Drugs.” Laws that limit the availability of pain medication are not based on truth (according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the real rate of addiction among chronic pain patients is a mere 3.27%), but are adjusted to fit the motives of politicians and scare the public.

Lastly, as chronic pain patients we must ensure that our voices are heard. We must educate and inform others and, most of all, demand our human right to adequate pain control.

Emily Ullrich suffers from CRPS/RSD, Sphincter of Oddi Dysfunction/Papillary stenosis, carpal tunnel syndrome, endometriosis, chronic gastritis, Interstitial Cystitis, uterine fibroid tumors, migraines, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD), Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS), Myoclonic episodes, generalized anxiety disorder, insomnia, bursitis, depression, multiple chemical sensitivity, and IBS.

Emily is a writer, artist, filmmaker, activist, and has even been an occasional stand-up comedian. She now focuses mainly on pain patient advocacy as a delegate for Power of Pain Foundation, as she is able.

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