"It's definitely broken, a hairline crack through the knuckle right there. You need to wear a half cast, so we will get you set up with one of those here. I can't give you any pain medication though; maybe just take Tylenol or Motrin when you get home, as needed."
That is a real-life statement, made by an Emergency Department physician after I broke my hand last weekend. Let's keep in mind that there is proof of a physical break, and I am a patient with multiple chronic diseases, including a widespread central pain disorder. So why was I denied justified pain medication?
About a year ago, new restrictions were placed on narcotic pain killers, like Norco, Vicodin, etc., as a response to "years of requests from the Drug Enforcement Administration, [or DEA], claiming the drugs were overprescribed, creating drug addictions, and too often diverted to the black market." As stated, prescription drug abuse is a huge problem in our country. The number of deaths or overdoses per year from prescription pain medications is nearing 16,000. These regulations impact the number of pills a patient can get, limit refills to zero, and require the patient to physically pick up the prescription from the physician and hand deliver it to the pharmacy, in some cases.
Let's add chronic pain into the picture, and explore the word stigma. Now, no one is arguing that these restrictions are not valid or that we don't have a prescription drug problem in this country. However, from my experience and the experiences of other patients I have spoken to, the regulations have caused real pain, real health conditions, real emergency injuries or ailments to not see relief or pain management. The stricter regulations are there for a reason, yes; however, we have not come up with a better solution or a screening process for those that need proper pain relief.
Well said by president of the U.S. Pain Foundation, Paul Gileno: "The person seeking relief from pain is not suffering from the same disease as a person who is an addict. Two separate diseases but it's hard to decipher because right away people associate pain patients with that group of addicts." In fact, the number of patients who have a real need for prescription painkillers far surpasses the number of people addicted to painkillers: over 100 million vs. 11 million, respectively.
I'm sure that I'm not alone in saying that I would rather have the ER run a urine test or toxicology screen than refuse to administer pain relief. That might not be the answer, and I don't know that I have one per se, but we have to stop refusing to open our eyes to the other population before us: the chronic disease fighters.
How will you #StopTheStigma?
About the author:
Kristin Coppens is a social media and digital communications professional, a health activist, an ePatient, and a multiple chronic diseases fighter and blogger. You can read more about her chronic illness journey on her blog, Chronically Kristin, or follow her on Twitter.
She will also be joining us this year at ePharma as an official guest blogger sharing insights from the event. ePharma will take place February 29 - March 2, 2016 in New York City. As a reader of this blog, when you register to join us with priority code EPHARMA16BL, you can save $100 off current rates!