Currently in the U.S., politicians, physicians, and patients are engaging in a heated debate over the use of narcotic pain medications for chronic conditions. Pain clinics are under more and more scrutiny since they are often perceived as “pill mills” — some justifiably if they do not properly evaluate and monitor patients.
At the root of the debate is the long-term use of narcotic drugs and the potential for addiction. Yet, many patients with chronic illness are in severe pain that responds only to specific types of interventions and medications.
From the standpoint of a patient advocate and someone who has lived 40+ years with chronic pain, here are some of my thoughts on the subject:
1. Perception of pain is unique to each person. My response to pain is completely different from your response to it. And, certain types of pain are more distressing to us than others. We all have various thresholds when it comes to pain tolerance.
2. Our potential for addiction is different. Whether it’s a genetic predisposition or something linked to our specific personality type, some people are more prone to addiction than others.
3. Reasons for using narcotic pain medications differ. Some individuals have access to alternative pain reduction devices, like a TENS machine, and techniques such as biofeedback. If people are not able to reduce pain in other ways, narcotic pain medications may be the only source of relief.
4. Some individuals cannot take non-narcotic pain medications. If non-narcotic meds are contraindicated, the list of available choices becomes quite narrow. Also, some individuals do not achieve the desired level of pain reduction from non-narcotic drugs. We all metabolize medications differently, and this greatly affects how well they actually work for us.
Every single person is unique in terms of what relieves pain. And the previous points should be considered fully by both physicians and the patients who are in need of pain management.
Many people have asked me what my personal beliefs are regarding narcotic pain relief, and I always state that I view these medications as a vital tool for some people to use as part of their pain management regimen. I do, however, believe that other individuals can achieve an acceptable level of pain relief without narcotic medications.
I am one of those individuals who has never used narcotic pain meds on a regular basis. I have taken them after surgical procedures for a limited period of time and then on rare occasions when I’ve had an injury or an acute problem such as a dental abscess. I’m grateful to have found narcotic relief from pain under those circumstances.
But for the everyday joint pain and swelling along with fibromyalgia pain, narcotics have never been my choice. I know one reason that I’ve been able to achieve suitable pain relief is that I have a very high tolerance for some types of pain. I lived for many years treating my rheumatoid arthritis with nothing but baby aspirin. I had no choice but to tune out my pain as much as possible and to use alternative techniques to survive.
When I am faced with something new, however, my pain threshold is much lower. And I think that’s true for many of us. We become accustomed to the same repetitive stimuli, but then when something novel occurs, we have more difficulty managing it.
The approach I advocate for with clients is one that uses a broad range of resources, since that is what has worked well in my life and what I’ve observed to work well in the lives of so many people with chronic illnesses. I fully support those who do require narcotic pain medications, but I also enjoy helping people to pursue alternative solutions that may allow for reduction of these drugs.
And as human beings who are part of the chronic illness community, it’s important for us to be there for one another — without judgment and an attitude that OUR way is the ONLY way. We do not know what it is like to live in another person’s body.
Support and affirmation of one another is vital — particularly since we all encounter so many people who have no comprehension of what it’s like to live with chronic illness. We can always gently educate one another about new techniques or different medications as long as we communicate this information with respect and compassion. That’s my goal with clients and on this site.
I would love to hear your thoughts on the use of narcotic pain medications for your particular illness or condition as well as any success stories for those who manage chronic pain without narcotics. BeChronicallyWell.com is a safe haven where you will be fully accepted no matter what your pain management strategies are!