Stop The Stigma

The Super Bowl is one of the most highly viewed television events of the year, and Super Bowl 50 was no exception. Statistics show that the Broncos-Panthers game was on in 49% of American homes with TV sets – and that number doesn’t include homes that may have streamed the game over the Internet. With such a huge audience, a Super Bowl commercial has about the maximum impact a single commercial can have.

If you watched Super Bowl 50, you may have noticed an ad brought to viewers by a partnership between the U.S. Pain Foundation, the American Chronic Pain Association, For Grace, Creaky Joints, and the International Pain Foundation. While certainly not as humorous as many of the other commercials, the ad was aimed at addressing a real issue in the chronic pain community: opioid-induced constipation (OIC). Different than ordinary constipation, OIC is estimated to develop in more than 40% of patients who depend on opioid medications to manage their chronic pain. Personally, I was very pleased to see this commercial in such a prime spot! Not only did the ad encourage chronic pain patients to address a very uncomfortable and personal issue, but I also thought there was the potential for increased awareness because of the huge viewership of the Super Bowl.

Then I saw Bill Maher’s tweet: Was that really an ad for junkies who can’t sh*t? America, I luv ya but I just can’t keep up.

Junkies. Despite the ad specifically stating that it was intended for people who “need an opioid to manage [their] chronic pain,” with a single word Mr. Maher swept aside an issue that is a real quality of life concern for 100 million Americans. Including me.

I am a hard-working 33-year-old mother of two toddler boys. I have a law degree and a masters in environmental policy. I also have rheumatoid arthritis – an autoimmune disease that causes me chronic pain. With the advice and supervision of my doctor, I have used opioids to help me manage my pain, care for my family, and move forward with my life as a productive member of society. Does this make me a junkie?

While I recognize the problem of opioid addiction in America, calling someone a “junkie” just for following a legitimate treatment plan recommended by their doctor only increases the stigma faced by individuals living with chronic pain. While your mother may have told you that words cannot hurt you, the unfortunate reality is this stigma can have a very negative impact on patients' lives.

When I covered the American College of Rheumatology’s opioid debate, many members of our community commented to share the negative experiences this stigma has caused. We are continually forced to prove and defend ourselves. Health care professionals often treat us like drug seekers. Some of us are forced to sign contracts before being allowed access to medications that simply allow us to function. Others are forced to take less medication than we actually need because it is so difficult, physically demanding, and time-consuming to obtain refills. Many of us feel embarrassed and alone. Many of us, who are just ordinary people trying to live our lives, are already treated like junkies.

As a mother of boys, I do understand that poop jokes can sometimes be hilarious – but unfortunately I found this particular joke to be more harmful than humorous. Instead of ridiculing people who may depend on opioids to improve their quality of life, we ought to be offering them compassion and help. We need to stand up and stop the stigma.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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