Get the Facts Right About Opioids

By Barby Ingle, Columnist 

This past week Tucker Carlson aired a series of reports on Fox News about opioids and addiction. After night two of watching the “Drugged” special segments, I wondered if Fox would be willing to tell the patient side of the story and wrote to some Fox News producers I know to see if they wanted to interview me.

I didn’t know the specific producer for Carlson, but the next morning I received an email from her. I immediately responded and said yes, I would come on the show. We set it up for Thursday or Friday. Well, on Thursday we bombed Afghanistan with the “Mother of All Bombs” and they were unable to get me in.

The producer did say that they would be doing additional segments on the topic and that they are interested in bringing me on sometime in the next few weeks.

I watched the rest of the series, and on Wednesday Carlson said that 60 percent of veterans have chronic pain. That didn’t sound right to me and I wondered where Carlson got his facts from. He never said in his broadcast.

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When I looked it up, I found a 2014 study in JAMA Internal Medicine that said 44% of military personnel develop chronic pain after a combat deployment. Also, not all of them are taking opioids as Carlson reported. Only 15% are taking opioids – compared to 4% in the general population.

When I get my chance to speak to Carlson or any other news outlet, I always suggest that we not take opioids off the table as a form of treatment for those with chronic pain. It is not the right thing to do in my educated opinion as a chronic pain patient. There are hundreds of treatment options, but many patients can’t afford them and insurance often won’t pay for them. You can’t leave patients without options.

Many people I know, including one of my best friends, committed suicide because of lack of proper and timely care. She wasn’t looking for opioids, she was looking for relief. She jumped from a 10-story building in New York.

Another friend spent months fighting for her medication after her insurance would no longer pay for her infusion therapy. Once her doctor finally gave her a prescription for fentanyl patches, she went home, put on all 60 patches and tried to commit suicide. She was found in time by her husband and was in a coma at a hospital for about a week.

When she awoke, she was pissed that they didn’t let her die. She wanted to die because she didn’t know how she was going to get any pain relief going forward. My friend is in an even worse situation now because the attempted suicide is on her medical record. She wants infusion therapy, but is denied it -- even though it gave her life back when she did have access to it.

I have been living with chronic pain for 20 years. This year I have been unable to find a provider who will even charge my insurance company for the infusion therapy that keeps me out of my wheelchair. I choose not to use opioids daily because they don’t work for me. But I don’t want to take them away from someone who they do help. That decision needs to be on an individual basis, between a provider and their patient.

We need to encourage pharmaceutical companies to address the addiction and tolerance in pain medications, and one way is the use of abuse deterrent formulas. Another is to get insurance companies, Medicare and workers compensation to cover alternative treatments so that we have more options. And for those who tried and failed with other treatments, we need to keep opioid medication available.

Patients also need to be responsible for their own actions and choices. Recently my doctor gave me a new script. Before filling it, I went home, Googled it, and saw the medication has potential negative side effects. I will be talking with my provider again in a week and will let him know that the medication is not right for me.

Patients need to be proactive about reading medication labels and inserts, and looking up information on our treatment options. We must educate ourselves and we must ask our providers questions. Being a responsible patient will lower the risk of abuse, and increase our access to proper and timely care.

Addicts are going to abuse no matter what is available. We chronic pain patients are simply asking for a seat at the table. Instead we are portrayed as wrong doers, who just want to get high on pain pills.

Carlson ended his week long series by saying he will continue to bring different voices and information to his viewers. His producer personally echoed that sentiment to me. I hope to be given the chance soon to come on his program and tell the patient side of the story, and the many challenges we face getting proper and timely pain care.  

Barby Ingle lives with reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), migralepsy and endometriosis. Barby is a chronic pain educator, patient advocate, and president of the International Pain FoundationShe is also a motivational speaker and best-selling author on pain topics.

More information about Barby can be found at her website.

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.