We Need to Admit Opioid Medications Are Dangerous

By Fred Kaeser, Guest Columnist

If chronic pain patients want continued access to opioid medications, we're going to have to admit they can be dangerous

There, I said it.

This has been bothering me for some time now, the apparent inability of many opioid medication users to admit that opioids can be dangerous. Read through the comments here at PNN or any other chronic pain forum and you'll hear a continuous drumbeat from many that opioids are safe when used for chronic pain. No ifs, ands, or buts.

The truth is no one really knows how safe or unsafe long-term opioid use is. No one knows because those studies have never been done.

But what many of us chronic pain patients do know is that popping a 10 mg oxycodone or its equivalent will pretty much do the job for us for a few hours or more.

And for many of us, it will do the job better than any other complimentary or alternative pain modality you can throw at us.

Of course, there are those who will tell us that opioid medications are dangerous. If you happen to be one of the 2.2 million people suffering from opioid medication addiction (OMA) you know they're dangerous. If you're one of the 4 million or so parents whose son or daughter suffers from OMA, you know they're dangerous. And if you're one of the nearly 30,000 parents whose son or daughter died last year from an opioid medication interaction, you really know they're dangerous.

So, opioid medications are dangerous – to them. But what about us chronic pain patients? If you are genetically predisposed to addiction, opioid medication is potentially dangerous to you. But even if you're not predisposed, opioid addiction is still possible. If the addiction rate is just 1% (which some believe), that means for the 11 million Americans who use opioid medication daily, they're dangerous for 110,000 of us. And if you believe the addiction rate is 10%, they're dangerous for 1.1 million of us.

Ever experience opioid withdrawal? Some of us have. How did you like going through that? Many would admit that was pretty dangerous. And if we didn't think it was, we sure thought that it sucked. And how about opioid medication misuse? Misuse our medications and risk respiratory distress or some other negative consequence? It can all be pretty dangerous.

Why do we need to admit opioids are dangerous?

Because to the average Joe and Jane America, we’ll seem pretty stupid if we don't. Policy makers and most of America have bought into the idea that opioids (legal and otherwise) pose a huge problem. If we don't jump on that bandwagon and work together to see how this problem can be effectively handled, we're only going to be left further behind. That train left the station and it isn’t coming back.

Continue to resist admitting that opioid medications can be dangerous, and all those that believe they are will continue to turn a deaf ear when we say we need them for pain relief. We only sound like the addict who is equally convinced that they need their drugs.

We can no longer afford to be seen as part of the problem. It is time that we are seen as part of the solution. And that starts with an open and honest dialog about the dangers of opioids, along with a similar dialog as to how chronic pain sufferers gain a quality of life when we take our medications responsibly -- which is the case the vast majority of the time.

We can argue that chronic pain patients should continue to have access to opioid medication, while at the same time agreeing that they can be dangerous and have created a problem for many in our society.

We can continue to lobby and fight for our right to adequate pain relief, while at the same time lend our efforts in the fight to minimize and reduce the horrors of addiction and death.

By doing so we will enhance our plight in the eyes of those that do not know what it is like to suffer daily the burdens of debilitating chronic pain.

By doing so we will be seen as reasonable and responsible in wanting to thwart the opioid problem. And even though we suffer, we are willing to fight for the greater good.

Most of us are pretty good at standing up and saying we deserve the medications that serve us so well. We can still do that when we also admit that they can be very dangerous.

Fred Kaeser, Ed.D, is the former Director of Health for the NYC Public Schools. Fred suffers from osteoarthritis, stenosis, spondylosis and other chronic spinal problems. He taught at New York University and is the author of What Your Child Needs to Know About Sex (and When): A Straight Talking Guide for Parents.

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 represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.