Anyone with a heart wants to protect people from addiction and death due to the overuse of opioids. The national outcry has created many new, draconian laws restricting the availability of the narcotic drugs to “protect” the public, but is that policy the answer?
My neighbor was a 68 year-old man with terminal cancer. With the help of medication and a caretaker, he was able to live at home and function fairly well. Then the medical clinic that managed his care changed their policy on narcotics, resulting in his pain prescriptions being cut in half. After days of unanswered calls to his doctor, he shot himself because the pain was more than he could bear. He left careful notes about all the calls, and a note on the door for his caretaker. He even killed himself in the yard so it wouldn’t mess up the house.
My friend’s mother is a vibrant woman in her 80s. Other than debilitating arthritis, she’s healthy physically and mentally. Her doctor will not prescribe enough medication to control the pain, just enough to take the bare edge off. Her family has begged the doctor to give her a little more because she cries in pain, but he refuses for fear of her becoming addicted and for fear of losing his license due to the strict federal guidelines.
My daughter suffers from a rare disease, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, known as the most painful disease of the human body. She has tried literally everything the medical profession has suggested, but needs powerful medications to keep the pain level low enough to function. When she has a flare up, common with her condition, she is unable to obtain anything to handle the horrendous additional pain. Sometimes, in desperation, she’s ended up in the Emergency Room. Last time she was informed by the doctor that no one with chronic pain would receive narcotics, so she should either go take more of her meds at home or try marijuana. She demurred, knowing she would be at risk of overdosing — and at the very least would run short on her prescription days before it could be refilled. Either option put her at risk of violating her pain contract, which would result in no pain prescriptions for two years. Nothing changed his mind, so she suffered horribly for several days. She cried, screamed, and shook with pain from the flare up and from withdrawal symptoms. I was terrified since four out of five people with her disease kill themselves because they cannot bear the thought of suffering for months and years.
These three stories are true, and they’re not unique. We must try to protect people from illegal and dangerous drugs, but we need to find some type of balance. People in agony from terminal illnesses, the elderly who lose their dignity to the ravages of chronic pain, and thousands of people with rare diseases should not have their lives turned upside down because of laws that make it more difficult — if not impossible — for them to get the medications they need to live day to day.
Most people would not dream of making their pets suffer when medication could help them. Shouldn’t we have the same compassion for those around us who need our help?