In past articles we have discussed opioids definitions, addiction, dependence, tolerance and signs of addiction. This time we look at a story of someone involved in addiction.
From her mid-forties, Karen struggled with mystery illnesses that defied diagnosis. Trips to her family doctor, specialists and even Mayo Clinic did not bring definitive answers. Finally, she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, bursitis, arthritis and eventually Crohns, all chronic pain producing conditions that couldn’t be fixed. Doctors began prescribing pain medication to help. It started as one prescription. A different doctor added another, then another: prednisone, pain medications and pain patches in increasing doses. At one point she was taking 60 medications a day. Karen and her husband pursued any medical advice offering hope of relieving her suffering. Physical therapy and an electro-stimulator didn’t work and only caused more pain.Over the years this loving, generous, godly woman was slowly consumed with her pain and prescriptions. Her world became smaller and more self-absorbed as time went on. When confronted with her overuse of prescription drugs, her comment was “You just don’t understand my pain management needs.” But in reality, she was addicted to prescription drugs.
Prescribing laws changed, doctors became more reluctant to prescribe opioid pain killers cutting back on the strength of her prescriptions and number of pills. Karen’s health continued to deteriorate, and she began taking her opioids more frequently and in greater amounts than prescribed. Her husband drove from pharmacy to pharmacy in the middle of the night trying to find some way to get refills for already filled prescriptions. In his desperation, he was willing to buy them on the street if he could not find them legally. Her family intervened and Karen was able to receive palliative care in a nursing facility. Within three months, she died of a cancer that was diagnosed too late, unnoticed because of her chronic health issues and reliance on opioids.
Karen never intended to become addicted to opioids. No one ever imagined that her true problem was addiction. Looking back, it seems obvious that many of her symptoms were related to addiction and cycles of withdrawal. Over the years as opioids decreased her body’s ability to deal with pain, she required more and more opioids to function. Eventually, even the opioids became ineffective, and she continued to suffer in spite of the massive quantities she took.
Although the details of their stories may be different, many others have suffered the same plight, starting opioid use because of legitimate pain issues and becoming addicted without any understanding of what was happening to them. Sadly, this is more common than we might think. If you or a family member finds yourself in this situation, talk to your medical provider about treatment alternatives such as physical therapy, chiropractic treatment, massage, injections, nerve blocks, acupuncture, exercise, yoga, an anti-inflammatory diet, cognitive based therapy or non-opioid medications. This should not be considered as diagnostic or treatment advice, but a place to begin a conversation with your provider.
Lynn Saylor is an AmeriCorps member serving in the United Against Opioid Abuse Initiative through the White County United Way. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Previous articles may be found on whitecountyunitedway.org/opioids.html.