Fed Up With Media Coverage of Opioids

By Janice Reynolds, Guest Columnist

I got fed-up the other day with another article in the newspaper that lacks veracity and is truly not in the interests of the “people’s right to know,” as it is untrue, biased, and does not include any input from true experts.  

Where has integrity and veracity gone when it comes to the press?  I speak particularly of the Portland Press Herald, but many of the other news media also confuse opinion with fact and sensationalism with truth.

100 million people in the U.S. suffer from chronic pain related to many different causes, including cancer, yet no politician seems to care.  They are very uncompromising that an addict’s life is much more important. 

When the media is asked to show the evidence for the oft repeated claim that “studies have shown conclusively opioids don’t help chronic pain, in fact they make it worse,” requests are denied.  This is likely because there are no such studies on humans.

The one study which claimed opioids made pain worse was done on rats who had essentially been tortured – which is not evidence at all. 

Pain is pain, and chronic non-cancer pain does not differ physiologically from other pain.  With some types of pain, another medication may work better than an opioid, but most severe pain is relieved best by an opioid. 

A recent Associated Press article republished in the Portland Press Herald is an example of half-baked reporting:

“At least 43 states’ governors signed on to the Compact to Fight Opioid Addiction, committing to fight the epidemic fueled by the overprescribing of prescription pain relievers.”

There is no evidence to support this statement what-so-ever.  If you look at the history of the current epidemic, it has nothing to do with people with chronic pain.  There are many problems people want to apply to the epidemic’s cause, including the advent of OxyContin, but that is a correlation rather than a causation. Most overdoses now are heroin and illegal fentanyl related.  Blaming the overdoses on prescription drugs is pure conjecture. 

The “overprescribing” of opioids is pure opinion -- unlike the overprescribing of antibiotics, which is based on evidence and is a justifiable use of the word. 

One of the worst references in the article is the use of Andrew Kolodny.  The man is an addiction treatment doctor who his chief medical officer of Phoenix House, which operates a chain of addiction recovery centers (which the article fails to point out). He knows nothing about pain management and is a known opiophobic, yet is considered an expert on pain by the AP:

“Until recently, many policymakers believed the epidemic was fueled by drug abusers and that limiting prescriptions would hurt legitimate pain patients, Kolodny said. But now there is growing awareness that doctors and dentists are prescribing too many painkillers, which are addictive and hurting many otherwise good people, he said.”

Other “real” pain experts such as Dr. Forest Tennant, Dr. Lynn Webster, Chris Pasero and many others who are acknowledged internationally should have been quoted or allowed to give a counterpoint. 

The sin of omitting the opposition’s opinion is greater than lying outright.  When the media stacks the deck to reflect their opinion only, how can they be trusted? 

Meanwhile, people with pain suffer, many cannot even find a provider and suicides are increasing.  Insurance and Medicaid will not pay for many of the non-opioids and non-pharmaceutical interventions, and very dangerous drugs such as NSAIDs (ibuprofen, naproxen, diclofenac, etc.) are pushed. Some estimate there are 20,000 deaths a year from NSAIDs, but you don’t see that in the media. 

People with pain have become marginalized, and subjected to prejudice and bias, much of it due to media coverage of chronic pain and opioids.  Everyone should be concerned, as they are going after acute pain next.

Janice Reynolds is a retired nurse who specialized in pain management, oncology, and palliative care. She has lectured across the country at medical conferences on different aspects of pain and pain management, and is co-author of several articles in peer reviewed journals. 

Janice has lived with persistent post craniotomy pain since 2009.  She is active with The Pain Community and writes several blogs for them, including a regular one on cooking with pain. 

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.