A Pained Life: Too Many Pain Pills

By Carol Levy, Columnist

I have a confession to make. I watch a number of the court TV shows. Sometimes they can actually teach me something, sometimes they are laughable. Sometimes they are cringe worthy. Sometimes they are simply infuriating.

The judge on one show uses his program as a platform to vilify “pain pills.”

A plaintiff or defendant is invited to tell their story. More often than not, it is a hard luck story. Within a few minutes, many of them blame much of their life struggles on substance abuse problems. Sometimes it is a happier story. They have kicked their drug addiction.

Either way, the judge is curious. “How did you get started using these drugs?” he asks.

The most common answer is that they had a bad back, toothache, neck pain, etc.

“I started to take pain medication for it, and next thing I knew I was addicted and my life spiraled out of control,” they often say.

The judge nods sagaciously and pronounces his sentence on opioids: “Oh yes. It is easy to get addicted to them.”

Never mentioned, and I do understand the issue of time and editing, is the benefit of these medications for those in legitimate pain. Or that those with chronic pain rarely become addicted to them. Instead, the false narrative continues to stand: Pain pills are given for specious reasons and quickly lead to addiction.

Also omitted is the question: “Where do these pills come from?”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states: “Since 1999, the amount of prescription opioids sold in the U.S. nearly quadrupled, yet there has not been an overall change in the amount of pain that Americans report.“

The CDC reported last week that 17,536 Americans died in 2015 from overdoses of prescription pain medication, a 4 percent increase from the year before.

Patients don't write these prescriptions, yet the CDC’s opioid guidelines and other government regulations seem intended to punish them. As a result, we need to go to the doctor more often. That means more money, more trips, and more waiting. As I write that, I can see folks without pain saying, “So what?”

The “what” is that having to make these extra trips usually translates into more pain, which may necessitate taking even more pain meds. The guidelines meant to “help” may actually increase the need for opioids.

But the CDC itself has let on where the problem lies.

It is not with the patient. It is with the doctors and prescribers who give out these prescriptions like candy. A dentist giving a 30-day supply for a tooth extraction, or a primary care doctor prescribing narcotics to a patient with lower back pain or other issues that could well respond to physical therapy, aspirin, and changing their behavior.  They are the culprits.

The source of the problem is clear. Too many prescriptions are being written by too many doctors.

The CDC guidelines let them off the hook. And puts the patient on it.

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.