The New Face of the Opioid Crisis

By Pat Anson, Editor

Caylee Cresta doesn’t have any illusions about being the next Internet star or YouTube sensation. But the 23-minute video she posted on what it’s like to be a chronic pain patient during an age of opioid hysteria has become a hit in the pain community.

“This video should be made to go viral,” one fan said.

“Caylee you did an amazing, persuasive presentation. Maybe you should be a lobbyist!” another one wrote.

“Single best piece of chronic pain patient advocacy I have ever seen. Absolutely brilliant!” wrote Chuck Malinowski.

Caylee’s video is not addressed to the pain community, but to the public at large. The 26-year old Massachusetts woman with fiery red hair looks directly into the camera and earnestly asks people to set aside their misconceptions about pain, addiction and the opioid crisis.

“I do not suffer from addiction and yet stigma will tell you that I do.  And that is a myth that we are going to change,” she says. “Don’t ever brush off the plight of the chronically ill because your lives can change in an instant, just as ours have.

“The fight against opiates is an uneducated one. This is a movement that lacks understanding in its most basic form. Every lawmaker is taking on this fight without ever consulting even a single chronically ill person. What does that mean? That means that the people who depend on these medications aren’t even being considered when taking them away.”

In her video, Caylee spends little time discussing her own experience as a pain patient. While still in high school, Caylee developed a rare and incurable neurological disorder called Stiff-person syndrome, which is characterized by strong muscle spasms and stiffness. The spams are so severe her lungs have collapsed twice.

“I’ll get such strong spasms in my throat and chest cavity that they create so much air that can’t escape (my lungs) that it just made them literally pop,” she told PNN. “My muscle spasms can break my bones, they’ll get that strong.”

Caylee’s symptoms were usually dismissed by doctors and it took years for her to get a proper diagnosis. Last year, a doctor at a pain clinic dropped her as a patient after getting a warning letter from Medicare that she was prescribing too many opioids. Caylee went without opioids for months, which is when her lungs burst.

Living in Fear

Although Massachusetts has a reputation as having some of the best healthcare in the world, Caylee now drives 3 hours one-way to see a neurologist in Connecticut.

“Any other doctor that I’ve seen over the years has literally looked at me and in one way or another and said, ‘Your prognosis is so dim. It’s so rare.’ They’re not even willing to take me on as a patient. My doctor has stuck by me and tried everything there is to try,” she says. 

Caylee has tried stem cells, chemotherapy and many other treatments. The only thing that works is opioid medication. Although she is once again able to get prescriptions for opioids, she often has trouble getting them filled. She and her husband went to 20 pharmacies one day before finding a pharmacist willing to fill her script.

“You live every single day in fear.  Every time you fill your prescription you go, okay, I’m going to have a life for another month. But you live that whole month with such anxiety and wondering what’s going to happen next,” she said. 

Caylee hopes her YouTube video will help educate the public about the daily challenges of being in pain and give some hope to pain sufferers.

“I want to fight for people going through this. I truly want to fight for them. I just want to let people know that they’re not alone. I want them to know that we’re all in this together,” says Caylee.

“What is probably the most humbling is when I get messages like ‘I would do anything for the world to be able to see this’ or ‘I would do anything for this to go viral and for people to understand what we go through.’ When I get messages like that, that let me know that these people feel like somebody is speaking for them, that touches me in a way that I can’t even explain.”