Many of us suffering from chronic illnesses are heartbroken over the death of Prince. Most of us are fans of his music, others also love his ascetic and the mystic of the man that choose to live in Minnesota, not Hollywood.
But most of us are heartbroken as we depend on opiates to help us stay pain free. Because we know Prince didn’t die of opiate use, he died from breaking the law. He died from opiate mis use, which is a crime.
The criminals are keeping so many of us from being able to easily get a drug that we have used safely for years. In my case, I’ve had almost 10 years of opiate use to get me through pain that otherwise would keep me bed bound. Others that take opiates are in end stage cancer, and it is the only thing that works, allowing them more time to enjoy their families and even travel a bit and do those things they love so much.
People with severe arthritis and chronic illnesses in the past were confined to lives of horrific pain. The drugs used to treat in the past, were often also opiates. An older doctor friend said that “They worked well, before morphine and other pain killers, those wounded on the battlefield were doomed to often die of shock from their injuries before we could get them to a hospital.” Opiates help countless others recover from surgeries, that before modern use of opiates would mean the surgery could be successful, but the pain control not, and shock would set in.
When I had a severe case of diverticulitis, the pain was so horrible that in the hospital I cried in pain for two days, unable to even watch TV or read a book. The staff assured me I was getting as much pain killer as I could, and that soon the antibiotics would work. This meant I could have the surgery that would save my life later when my intestines were not suffering from an extreme infection. While I was in pain, I was also comforted knowing that I was undergoing a very dangerous surgery under much more safer circumstances without the infection. The only thing allowing the delay were the extreme pain medications.
So, what about those of us that take opiates?
Well today opiate use is under attack by law enforcement and various states. They see this as an epidemic. They also blame doctors. They are “overwhelmed”, or should I say understaffed and undertrained. The same police that shoot someone as an over reaction to their fears of being hurt, are the same people claiming the only cure for this epidemic is strict enforcement of laws designed to make it harder to get these drugs.
Sadly the only people being punished are those that really need these drugs to function. One friend told me that she saw her grandmother only in bed, since her arthritis had no good treatment. Eventually she said her grandmother simply stopped eating, a slow and miserable form of suicide. No one in the family encouraged her to eat, as they knew her level of pain was horrific. There were no “home remedies”, those snake oil medicines that were mostly cocaine or morphine, there were just doctors that knew some forms of arthritis were a curse, as feared in those days as getting cancer.
So, how are opiates different today?
Well for one thing doctors, not the police, have taken great steps in solving this opiate crisis. My opiates come in a safe long release form. That means, I can’t get a punch from it. Over 12 hours it is slowly released into my system. I feel the pain ease away, and it takes about 20-30 minutes before I can even walk in the mornings. I keep the medications by my bed, ready to be taken. What happens if I take two? I would suppose I get a bit more of a buzz, but it’s still super low release.
Still, what if someone steals my tablets? They will be very unhappy as they won’t get much of a punch. In fact the slow release has little chance of addition. Also crushing the tablets to snort (which is a favorite method for a quick high) won’t work with these pills. There is an additive that means if crushed, cut or broken, the opiate won’t work at all. These new pills, developed to help those with a long term pain need not become addicts, is never mentioned by the media.
My own doctors are appalled at the law enforcement/political plans to deal with this “crisis”. They feel left out of the process. As it is, laws have been passed that I can only refill my prescription on the day it runs out. I have to be out of drugs before I can refill. This often means if there is a snow storm or some other reason I can’t get out, I can’t get my drugs. This also means I can’t drop one or lose one. I dropped one the other day, and ended up having a friend over to tear apart the room with me (I can’t bend over well) to find it, where it was found having rolled under the bed and into a dust bunny. My friend was “throw this out, it’s all dirty.” I was “I have to take it.”
Next up are the laws that say you have to have a paper prescription. So you time everything correctly. Each month I have to go get a paper copy of the prescription from my physician who has never had one problem with her patients and opiates. None. But this applies to all doctors. Instead of going after the criminal doctors, and they are out there selling everything, not just opiates, the police have decided all doctors are guilty. So, often I am driving, or most often someone that can still drive well, to pick up the paper prescription.
A horrible situation arose when I had my prescription ready to go on a Friday, and found my physician had forgotten to sign it. It didn’t matter that for years I have gone to this same pharmacy and filled this same prescription, I had to have a real signature. The doctor had simply forgotten. Her office was closing in 15 minutes. I could not physically drive there and back (her office is about 30 minutes away). She was leaving for the weekend to see her child at college. A fax was no good. This had to be a physical signature.
Finally, after much calling and “I know this law is so stupid”, the head pharmacist and
someone at the company that owns the pharmacy, took pity on me. They knew me, by first name, they knew this doctor had NO issues or problems. She promised to send one over via mail overnight, but for that night, I could have one pill. One pill. Everyone involved knew this was ridiculous, but they didn’t want me to have to spend the night in pain or as would probably happen, having to check into the hospital.
Massachusetts tried to pass a law where anyone on opiates had to go to the pharmacy every 3 days for a refill. Now when I put in my prescription, I have to show ID. I have shown ID being driven by my husband or a family member, while in my pajamas and robe and surrounded by pillows, because if I am flaring, I should be in bed,not in a car at the pharmacy drive through.
My own doctor was livid about this, wondering how end stage cancer patients would enjoy spending their little remaining time driving between their doctors office picking up a paper copy, and then sitting waiting for their pills at the pharmacy. She said “Patients with real needs that had never abused their opiates would spend all their time going back and forth.” You have to show up in person, no matter what your condition, but once a month I can do. Every three days, that’s impossible. But the police and law enforcement were all in favor of this.
That’s the problem, because Prince was given opiates for his hip problem. But the opiates did not kill him. He died as he had people that helped him abuse the drug. If it weren’t opiates, it might have been something else. People say “I was addicted.” No, as with many drugs, opiates are hard to get off of right away, and you ease off with the help of your physician when the time is right. Just try not taking, cold turkey, almost any medication. It’s tough. I know someone trying to get off of her Paxil as she read it can cause dementia later in life. She tried to quit “cold turkey” and was a complete mess. She had to be eased off of it, and another drug which she hopes is safer, introduced.
What killed Prince were his friends and others that got him those opiates. Perhaps he had his staff claim they were in pain and needed short term opiates. These will give you quite the buzz. Money can buy a lot of things. Including doctors that will sell you about anything, including Ritalin to snort. No one is saying “let’s stop using Ritalin.” Paxil does indeed seem to cause an increase in your risk of dementia, as does Tylenol. No one is calling for those to be more regulated. Indeed, one of the most dangerous overdoses anyone can take is half a bottle of Tylenol. There isn’t much that can be done for the liver damage and people that were more into scaring their family with taking an over the counter medication find themselves dead. Mix in some alcohol and you are in for real trouble.
Yes there is an opiate crisis. I know this as I have a handicap tag, not a license plate. Why? Because if you have the license plate, people will break into your home knowing you have a likelihood of having MANY drugs (not just opiates) they can sell. Also I was asked to always use the drive through at the pharmacy. That is because an elderly couple that got their medications locally (at the pharmacy I use) were followed by someone as they left and robbed at the post office in small Spofford Village. Yes crime is around prescription drugs.
But there is also crime around heroin, marijuana, cocaine and other drugs.
There are also cheaper drugs just waiting to fill the void in the United States. Currently Thailand has a inexpensive pill that helps workers put in long days. It’s a necessity for many to make a living. Ya Ba is sold for about $3-4 a pill. It’s a super cheap high, first popularized by long distance truckers. It’s spreading throughout Asia, as it’s a way to keep going even when you are exhausted. It also is a way to party and have a social life after a long day of work. Once this pill invades the US, it will make opiates look like a joke.
The problem isn’t that doctors are prescribing this, it’s that many people do have an addictive personality and also have the money and means to get more of this drug. When they are taken off the medication, not slowly and carefully, they often turn to heroin on the street as it’s the closest they can get. It should be noted prescription opiates are not heroin. Also stolen opiates are often crushed and injected, they are not at all what the person legally taking these drugs is experiencing. If anything, doctors need to know their patients, and also make sure that there is proper care with withdraw from the drug.
When celebrities like Jamie Lee Curtis claim they were “addicted” to opiates after a surgery, what they mean is “I had a really hard time getting off of it, as I possibly would with any medication that is very strong.” She was not on the streets seeking a high from heroin. Anyone that has suffered from Depression, as many with chronic illnesses have, knows that the switching of medications to determine the correct medication for treatment can be torturous. It’s not just opiates that are difficult to do without.
But, politicians and law enforcement, they see all use of opiates as dangerous. The punishment falls on those least able to follow these new restrictions and rules. They don’t consult with physicians and surgeons and hospitals about all the good these medications do for so many, who do not abuse the drug. There are no good alternatives for many of these medications. Punishing the patient is not the answer. Punishing the physician who has to tell the patient, “I have to use this other painkiller that does cause terrible stomach pain, I’m sorry.” What they will do with patients after surgery is not known.
It’s easier for someone to buy and abuse liquor, and indeed we rarely read about the epidemic of alcoholism, than to get opiates. If you are Prince and you have friends and money, you can get this drug. But the drug itself did not kill him. His dependence and unwillingness to find treatment, did. It could have been alcohol. It could have been cocaine. It could have been Ya Ba. As long as there are substances that can alter our physical state, they will be used for both good and bad.
Prohibition did not work. States are figuring out that decriminalizing marijuana is a good idea. Even making it legal seems to be working well for Colorado. California has it so you can sneeze and get the medical use license.
Opiates are the drug du jour. They do a lot of good, and yes have cause a lot of harm for some that have abused them. Overall, imagine war without opiates, hospitals without an opiate choice for those in severe pain, and opiates off the list for people at the end stage of their illness. Pass laws and more restrictions and those that still want it will find it. Those that legally use it and need it, will just suffer in pain with inferior medications, or end up trapped in bed and suicides will jump.
If physicians and doctor, those ones that deal with patients everyday, were included in this
“war on opiates” lawmakers and law enforcement might learn there is a lot that the medical community has already done to make opiates safer. Long term slow release is a comfort to me, knowing I can get the medication I need and have small chance of addition. While getting off these medications may be part of my future if a better treatment is found for my condition, and much surgery done to correct the damage already done, I may be off these drugs. I would like nothing more than to be able to live drug free. But that is not a reality for many of us.
The thought that politicians and not physicians, will be the ones deciding if I live a life of pain, or one of controlled comfort, is one that terrifies me.