This week’s Chronic Babe carnival is about how prescription painkillers are handled in this country. The article The War Over Prescription Painkillers got a huge response; many people feel strongly about this issue. I am one of them.
The pain started when I was 12. It was sporadic and manageable. It changed when I was 16. It became constant and severe. On a good day, the pain was at a 6 or 7 on the now-familiar pain scale. If only there had been more good days. The pain was 24/7. I learned to eat through it, sleep through it, go to school through it, be a teenager through it. I did not learn how to properly manage it. No doctors sent me to a pain clinic. There was some vague talk about painkillers, but I was scared, and no one properly explained them. No one offered coping mechanisms. That was back in the 1990s. I would have expected things to have improved by now. I wish I’d been right.
I wrote before about my feelings about medical marijuana. I think people (meaning politicians) need to get over the stigma of it, and accept that if it can help people while imparting relatively few side effects, then it should be prescribed like any other substance that helps people. It all comes down to the stigma. And that’s what’s happening with the current state of painkiller prescriptions. There’s a stigma, and that’s stopping people from getting the medications they need.
The question is simple, really: is it worth risking the well-being of the many people who could become addicted to painkillers if it means helping those who are in pain? Well, let’s examine a few similar situations.
- Plenty of people like to gamble. I’m one of them. From time to time, I’ll buy a lottery ticket. Sure, I know I’m probably throwing my money away, but it’s fun to dream about what I’d do with the winnings. Some people get addicted to gambling. This can harm those who are addicted as well as their loved ones and society in general. Far from making it illegal, more states are making it legal now, including my own state of Massachusetts. And it doesn’t help people with serious illnesses.
- Many people like to drink. Some people go out for a drink or two, then safely go home. Some people are addicted to alcohol. Many people are killed by drunk drivers. The people who drink are harmed, and so are their loved ones, strangers, and society. Is alcohol illegal? Well, Prohibition really didn’t work out too well in this country, and even that wasn’t a full-out ban. These days, drinking is embraced. Social events often involve alcohol. Religious events often involve alcohol. Work events often involve alcohol. And it doesn’t help people with serious illnesses.
- A lot of people like to smoke. Some smoke a lot, some smoke rarely. Some people are addicted to cigarettes. Smoking can kill the smokers and also the people who are exposed to their smoke. Smoking can even detract from some workers’ productivity (add up all those cigarette breaks, and the smokers at my office spend a lot more time away from their desks than I do.) And so now smoking is illegal. Oh, wait, it’s not? Really? Hmm…. And it doesn’t help people with serious illnesses.
I could easily go on. The point is, we do not ban items or practices because they may be abused by a minority. if the item or activity is deemed safe overall, we allow it. [Note: Cigarettes don’t fit this category – if they were a new invention, free of lobbying, I doubt they’d get past the FDA, but that’s just my own guess.] So why are prescription painkillers so stigmatized? Why are they less socially acceptable than gambling, drinking, and smoking? I think it’s precisely because gambling, drinking, and smoking are for everyone (who is of a certain age) whereas prescription painkillers are only for “sick people.” The majority want to believe they will never be in need of these medications, so it is easy enough to say that their primary purpose is for use by addicts and sellers. These people don’t want to see the real need; it’s easier to turn away from it. But that doesn’t change it. The need is real, and it’s here. There are a lot of potentially dangerous substances in this world and we can’t remove them all. Let’s not allow fear to take away something that is so beneficial to so many.
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