By Jessica Link, MD, Guest Columnist
“You’re too young to be in pain!”
Those are the words that I have heard way too often in the last months. I recently moved for a new job opportunity, and though it was the right action to take for my career, it was a nightmare for my pain.
I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at age 27 and have been through numerous joint surgeries. For any person that suffers from arthritis, no matter your age, you know it can be a very painful disease.
The fatigue, cotton-stuffed brain, and general flu-like muddle that plagues me are tough, but nothing compared to a flare. It’s a burning white, vision-blinding pain that will wake me from sleep if I move the wrong way. It’s a relentless monkey on my back that weighs me down from exercise, work, and a social life. It’s the one thing that can rob me of my will to move or even breathe.
According to most doctors, I am “too young” to have pain. And I am “too young” to take an opioid.
Part of the difficulty I face is that I am allergic to NSAIDs (ibuprofen, naproxen) and will have an anaphylactic reaction if I take them. I use a small dose of tramadol a couple of times a week to take care of the worst days. Most days I use a combination of TENs, massage, exercise, and topical treatments as well DMARDs and biologics.
The pain management doctors in my area refuse to take anyone who is on even the smallest dose of opioids. It took me a long time to convince my rheumatologist that I will not be an addict by taking one pill every few days. The response I get is what many like me have heard: “Opioids are addictive. They will ruin your life.”
This makes my blood boil. Opioids have just as much power to allow someone to live as they do to bring someone down. However, a success story will not get the coverage that abuse and addiction will.
Part of my frustration stems from the fact I have a medical degree and understand all the science behind my disease and the drugs used to treat it. That same degree also allows me to draw upon my experiences caring for patients suffering from addiction.
There are two types of people who are suffering that are united by a common enemy: pain. Some have physical pain and need the medication to live, and others have pain caused by the medication.
Removing the medication does not fix the problem because the pain remains. It only leads to more suffering; suffering that slowly drains life from people. For so long now everyone wants to point fingers, place blame, and label a scapegoat.
However, I feel that every side has played a role in this disaster, below are just a few:
- Pharma: Improper and misleading advertising.
- Doctors: Overprescribing at times in an attempt to ease suffering.
- Government groups: Throwing power around to make laws without thinking through the consequences.
- Pain patients: We need to take responsibility to safely store our medications, be educated, use pain management tools, and advocate for ourselves.
- Addicts: Addiction is a disease but getting help and working to be clean is a choice.
- Media: One-sided stories and outrageous coverage cause more harm than good.
I’m old enough to have opinions. I’m old enough to know right from wrong. I’m old enough to have empathy and compassion. I’m old enough to know what pain is.
Jessica Link started her career as a family doctor before chronic medical issues forced her to shift directions. Now, she works full-time as a medical writer. She lives in Connecticut.
Pain News Network invites other readers to share their stories with us. Send them to: editor@PainNewsNetwork.org.
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.