She was thirty years of age. A mother, a police officer and an athlete. Her twelve year old son takes after his mom. Already he is a gifted multi-sport player.
This mother will never again see her son’s accomplishments or place her body in the path of approaching threat. She is gone by her own hand; overcome by ignorance and indifference from those who solemnly swore to never act as they have.
I spoke with the officer’s mother at length. It was a cold call. The kind of call I have made far too frequently. A journalist’s call.
The mother didn’t really want to speak with me, but decided otherwise when I shared I have been fighting for good people consigned by fate, as her daughter was, to experience chronic pain so overwhelming it can cause involuntary screams of agony. Pain which requires the sufferer to lie on a bed with zero chance of sleep. Pain delivered by a myriad of causes. Pain which becomes the sole focus for the sufferer.
Recently it has become fashionable to attack chronic pain patients as drug abusers, as needle-wielding junkies intent only on securing the next fix and high.
You have no doubt heard and read about the so-called opioid crisis. This crisis has zero to do with chronic pain patients.
You have read and heard of deaths by opioid overdosing, as well as newly designated safe injection sites where addicts are provided clean needles, medical assistance and an aura of legitimacy.
The chronic pain patient does not self-inject. Doesn’t need to. Patients obtain their opioid meds from a pharmacy, not a street corner.
While the addict is provided safe injection sites, the chronic pain patient is cast adrift and talked down to by Canada’s Prime Minister and the U.S. Attorney General. “Suck it up, buttercup. It’s minor.”
I have heard the shrieks from a chronic pain patient, as well as threats of suicide as opioid meds were withdrawn. Opioids don’t deliver a high. Instead they affect pain receptors in the brain. Chronic pain patients who become addicts are few in number. The only converts from pharmacy to street corner I have heard of are patients who reached out for illegal drugs after being denied opioid medication by their doctors. There is the oft-repeated story of a criminal drug dealer compassionately ‘treating’ a new client when he realized she struggles with chronic agony. In this case the drug dealer became the de facto medical stand-in.
Many doctors are terrified to prescribe opioids fearing licence loss. “Nonsense” argue walking lab coats with licence-revocation power. The 2017 Canadian opioid guideline for non-cancer patients states there should be no sudden ending to opioids prescribing. Tapering is to be engaged. Convince the doctor who told me “I have a family to take care of. I can’t afford to lose my licence. I’m not prescribing opioids to anyone again.” Ask chronic pain patients how often they have heard similar words from their doctor. Speak to the patient whose doctor has chosen to give up practicing pain management entirely.
A 52 year old father and husband shot himself in the head because he could no longer bear the torture of unremitting pain, while being shuffled from doctor to pain clinic and back again. His widow and orphaned daughter shared their grief and rage.
I have repeatedly, including recently, invited Canadian medical decision-makers concerning prescribing of literally life-saving opioid pain medication to make their case on air. They have either declined to appear, or refused to reply.
Today a twelve year old boy lives with his grandparents because his thirty year old mom was overwhelmed and could no longer bear the constant and unremitting agony. Her doctors cared not and refused to prescribe the only medication which made the pain manageable.