Like millions of other people in the U.S. I’ve been watching and slowly becoming obsessed with the show This is Us. It’s a wonderful, tear-generating show about the intricacies of familial relationships. There have been several episodes since the beginning that made me think “Oh my god, that hits close to home.” or “Yup, been there.”
But recently there have been two episodes that may show perhaps a fraction of truth behind the opioid addiction problem in the U.S. One of the main characters, Kevin, hurts his knee while working on a film set. He is given narcotic pain medication to help him with the pain while he’s healing.
Rather quickly he begins to spiral out of control. He’s taking more than he should, washing them down with alcohol, and becoming increasingly dependent on them. Yes, this may be accurate in some situations, but as a whole it sheds a bad light on those using opioids for pain management. The ruining of his relationship, the panicked voicemails to his physician, and the emotional spiraling seems so blown out of proportion.
Another way to look at his fictional situation is that his father is portrayed as having issues with addiction himself. Drinking heavily and driving on occasion. For people that come from a family that has a history of addiction, the chances of becoming addicted is greatly increased. I can fully acknowledge that.
I suppose the part that really bothers me about this portrayal of opioids and pain management is the fact that those who are not well informed in the subject of chronic pain, are going to make assumptions about those who use opioids in order to keep living a normal life.
In my own life, I have turned to opioids for pain relief on many occasions. Around 2014 I met with my general practitioner and we discussed the beginning of a pain management contract. Under this contract, I was to follow the rules of my physician regarding the dosing, and refills for the medication. Under the threat of legal action, I was to only obtain one prescription for vicodin from this physician. I was only allowed to have a 30-day supply, and if there is any suspicion of abuse they can draw blood to check the level of said medication in my system. For me, this was no problem. Taking vicodin was and still is a last resort. I wouldn’t wish for anyone to have to take it on a regular basis. The side effects are horrible, and at least in my situation, it didn’t actually offer much in the way of pain relief.
After getting regular refills and following the rules of my general practitioner, I made the decision to stop taking opioids on a regular basis. Although I was taking the proper dosage, and kept my physician updated on the status of the possibility of surgery, I stopped getting refills. The side effects of the medication were taking a toll on my system, and I felt like a zombie everyday.
Recently, after having an enormous flare-up of sciatic pain, and a trip to the ER, I gave in an took vicodin. This time, I was only on the medication for about a week. I just needed enough help to get through the day so I didn’t have to stay home from work.
I feel like that’s the part of pain management that many people don’t realize. Whether the person has cancer, a bone disorder, or a bad back, the main objective is to find a sense of normalcy. Most people don’t start taking vicodin with the desire to become addicted and to subsequently ruin their lives. Unfortunately this does happen to some, but for the majority of people taking pain medication are simply doing it so they can get out of bed in the morning. So they can make a meal for the their family, so they can feel like a normal person even just for a few hours. Or in my situation, so I can get up in the morning and make it through the day at work without breaking down in tears from the pain.
Until there is a better method for pain management, opioids are going to be the most accessible way of keeping those with chronic pain moving.