Chronic pain, narcotics, and stigma - Community thoughts

An article in The New York Times published earlier this month reported that data from a study conducted by pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts found that patients who are prescribed narcotic painkillers are getting more of them for a longer time.1 In fact, approximately half of the patients who were taking painkillers for 30 days during the first year of the study were still taking them 3 years later, which is understood to be a sign of potential abuse. As most of us know, there are established risks associated with long-term use of some prescription pain medications, including addiction and accidental overdose. However, for the hundreds of thousands of patients living with chronic pain, these medications are a critical component to managing their pain and overall quality of life. We recently asked our Facebook community members what they thought about this study, and we received an overwhelming number of responses! More than 200 of you were kind enough to share your thoughts with us! Here is what you had to say!

Pain medication is an essential part of my treatment plan

  • Until there is a cure, we will continue our pain meds to survive!
  • I am so frustrated by these new restrictions on opioids. I take vicodin for my RA pain. Regular Tylenol doesn't help at all, and I'm allergic to NSAIDs. Some people actually need these medications to function.
  • I think that after fighting RA and its affects, degenerative disc disease, osteoporosis, scoliosis and other medical issues (some for over 50 years), I am doing the best I can to try to maintain some type of functional life. I challenge anyone to walk in these shoes without any type of pain meds.
  • I was diagnosed at age 7 and am now turning 29. I have three total joint replacements and a fused ankle. I also have two children (5 and 3) who keep me extremely active! Between taking and picking up from school, volunteering at school with a 3 year old on my hip, dance and every day life, I cannot imagine not having my steroids, anti-inflammatory medicines and pain killers!
  • If you don't have severe RA you have no clue what the pain is like. It’s unbearable at times even with the high doses of pain meds. I for one could never function or live without them.
  • I'm bedridden if I don't use pain medicine. So if diet and exercise help you, more power to you.
  • Living with RA is only tolerable with my pain meds... Anyone who judges me can try to walk a day in my shoes!!
  • Anyone who has lived with chronic pain understands how much it affects every aspect of your life. In order to live a normal life and do as we would be doing if not for this much pain, we need help. We should not be judged for that. It should be made easier for us so that we just don't sit down and give up on life.
  • I have RA and I need my pain meds. Without them I would have no quality of life. I don't abuse my meds and I certainly don't want to need them but I do.
  • Some people would not be able to function, i.e., go to work without them sometimes just no other options. Who wants to be in constant pain?
  • I take pain relief to help me with pain and I refuse to apologize for this.
  • The pain is real! I was taking hydrocodone for my pain. Now with all these new laws my doctor will not give me any!! Tramadol is what he gives me which only make my stomach hurt. Something should be done for those of us who have chronic pain!
  • My rheumatologist told me they didn't want to cover up any serious pain I may encounter while talking the pain meds for my RA. But I was sent to pain management for pain meds. I do get treated differently since starting hydrocodone and morphine. But I don't care as long I don't have to deal with the constant pain and I can function better I don't take more than prescribed even though sometimes it is not enough.
  • As someone who suffers from chronic pain, I can understand this completely. Anything that you can find that helps relieve the pain, for even just a short time, you stick with.
  • As a person with RA, I am very grateful for my pain medications.

I’m frustrated by the stigma associated with taking prescription pain medications

  • I think it is sad that recreational users have made is so darned hard for people in pain to get treatment.
  • I take oxycodone very occasionally, but when you have those really bad days there isn't much that helps except the pain meds. I feel like a bus ran me over, and when I take the meds it mellows the pain out. So I can either sleep or continue my day
  • If you need it you need it. With diseases like RA it's ridiculous. Stop making us feel like drug addicts.
  • I am so glad I am not alone. There's nothing worse than a pharmacist asking me if I really should be taking my pain meds. I hate feeling ostracized at the pharmacy- it is the worst feeling in the world - being in terrible pain, not working due to physical restrictions and not sleeping- finding something that works, not abusing it, and being questioned every 30 days for the rx your doctor writes.
  • When I was in the ER few weeks ago, again I got attitude from the nurses and the pharmacy tech on being on long term pain meds. You get the snarky comments, the superior attitude.
  • I think it is fine for chronic pain and terminal illnesses. The chronic pain takes away from any quality of life a person can have. Adequate pain control helps patients live normal lives with less pain and happier lives as well. Pain raises the blood pressure and so many other issues. Just because drug addicts steal pain meds is no reason to limit people who have a genuine need for pain relief.
  • It’s ridiculous to talk about people who are in chronic pain becoming 'dependent' on pain killers- if the illness is not going to disappear neither is the pain and so you will continue to need the drugs- this may sound like dependence to those who don't live with the constant pain but what are we to do? Take the drugs for a pre-determined amount of time and then we don't get them anymore? What are we supposed to do then?
  • ‪Someone needs to tell these researchers that if we didn't have pain meds we would not have any quality of life at all. I'm 66 years old and I'm tired of being treated like an addict.
  • It should also be noted that when you're in pain, you don't get high. The pain meds are working on taking care of the pain.

People who don’t experience pain don’t understand

  • Those with no pain don’t understand!
  • I wish I could live my life without pain meds, but my life is not worth living if I have to go without my medicine. The pain becomes so severe it makes me vomit, I hate that someone who has never had chronic pain tells me I do not need it, I hope they never have to feel what I feel on a daily basis.
  • Doctors, hospitals, pharmacies etc. all scrutinize us, but no one can even begin to understand this unbearable pain we are living with
  • ‪I think that no one understands the chronic pain of Rheumatoid Arthritis!!!
  • Until there is a cure for the disease that is terrorizing me, I will tell you to live one day in my shoes of pain then tell me pain meds are overrated, overused, and not needed. I get so angry to see these that I want to scream. Live with real pain and then talk to me.
  • I really hate to be judged by being compared with everyone. Walk in pain for days and lets see how you feel.
  • Chronic pain from RA or other conditions is a serious issue all on its own. I found that out this summer when my blood pressure was sky high and refused to come down until my pain was better controlled.
  • Stay out of my business until you walk in my painful shoes.

Don’t forget about some of the alternative treatments that are available

  • Taking prescription pain pills doesn't make anyone "bad". They take them because they are in pain and the pill eases a bit of that suffering. However, there ARE other options. Medical marijuana is a legitimate option that many people are benefiting from. The future is here, like it or not, the truth will be heard because the masses refuse to be quiet. You have every right to take prescription drugs. You should never feel shame about that. You should also have the option and choice of natural treatment.
  • Until legalization of marijuana nationwide to use in forms of oils, juicing and such to get the pain relief benefits of without the "high" - chronic pain patients have few long-term healthy options.
  • Medical marijuana is not an option for everyone, or everywhere. Although it was approved in New York this year it will not be available for another two years. And, the state government has only approved it for a very limited number of medical conditions. If you suffer from a chronic pain condition that is not on that list, you will not be able to get it.

I have mixed feelings about the use of prescription pain medicines

  • I have mixed feelings. These drugs can definitely lead to dependence even when taken as prescribed and not abused. But if someone has a chronic illness causing pain, aren't they technically "dependent" on pain relief if it never goes away? Plus there is a downside to leaving pain untreated. It puts a lot of stress on the body (and mind), which leads to increased cortisol, which leads to weight gain and eventually central obesity, which creates other health issues. Maybe reducing pain (even if it means taking lifelong painkillers) is better if it means the patient can exercise?
  • I don't take more than I need, and my Dr. trusts me to do that! These people who keep making laws need to walk in our shoes for a while! I hate being penalized for the drug addicts out there.
  • I have a prescription to hydrocodone and hardly ever use it. To be honest naproxen helps me more on really bad days than anything. I might take a hydrocodone once every 3-6 months.

What do you think about this study? How do you think it affects those who take prescription medications to manage their pain? Please share with us in the comments!

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