There’s Another Opioid Crisis We Don’t Talk About And I’m Trapped In The Middle Of It.
I am an opioid user.
There, I said it. I’m “out of the closet,” per se.
I have been fighting chronic back pain for the past 18 years and have been using opioids for the past eight. I am not addicted to the medication and do not take any more than my doctor prescribes.
I am always cognizant of the threat that I may one day become addicted, or worse, that my tolerance levels will rise and I will need more and more pills to receive the same amount of relief. I have to fight off addiction, but more importantly, I need to fight off pain.
The debate on the opioid crisis often overlooks chronic pain patients who take these medications responsibly. Many of us long for an affordable alternative to opioids, which have many adverse side effects.
I have a sitting disability, which means I cannot sit for long periods of time without severe pain, due to lumbago (low back pain) and sciatica (pain that shoots down my left leg). I also have fibromyalgia, which hits different areas of the body at different times. It is difficult for me to get around, sit for dinner, visit family and friends, or sometimes tie my shoes. I am the very definition of a chronic pain patient.
My doctor first prescribed me an opioid in 2010, after back surgery (lumbar fusion at the L5-S1 level). The decision for me to undergo surgery was not taken lightly by my doctor or myself. I spent 10 years attempting to fight the pain in other ways: chiropractors, physical therapists, acupuncture, acupressure, dry needling, yoga, meditation, massage, biofeedback, and steroid and collagen injections. The surgery was a last resort. So were the opioids. I had tried every other non-opioid pain medication on the market. The back surgery was a failure, and my doctor decided to keep me on them.
Opioids are not my only tool to fight pain. My preferred method is to lie on large ice packs and let the weight of my body sink into them. I also use heating pads, a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation unit, sprays, patches, and just avoiding sitting or standing for too long because it aggravates pain. Sprays and patches are smelly, TENS units are cumbersome, heating pads need electrical sockets, and ice packs require me to lie down, which is hard in public. Opioids are not a magic bullet, but they are portable when other forms are not reasonable.
At home, I can control my pain with fewer pain medications, but this leads to a cycle of isolation that many chronic pain patients experience. I am afraid to travel because it is difficult to sit in public places, so I tend to stay at home, sometimes days at a time. My doctors want me to live my life, even if it means taking the full dosage of pain medication. They are more worried about my isolation than my threat of addiction.