Thursday, September 20, 2018

Pain Relief is a Human Right

If you know me personally, you might already know that I have become professionally involved in a foundation (or soon to be foundation once we officially file with the IRS) called the Opioid Education Foundation. I've learned a lot in the past few weeks about the origins of what has come to be called an opioid epidemic. At the same time, my sister has become involved in an issue that affects her personally - the reactionary movement against opioids in general, and the resulting denial of essential pain management medications to people who need them to live. And I mean that. There are people who need opioids to live. Because living in horrific pain 24/7 isn't living, and people will and have committed suicide if that is their only other option.

What I have come to understand, from what I've read, hoping that the sources are accurate, is that prescription opioids came about in the early 90s and were marketed as a miracle drug. Incredible pain relief without risk. Safe and non-addictive, they said. "They" being the massive pharmaceutical companies that have made billions of dollars every year these drugs have been on the market. It was a lie. OxyContin is safer than heroin, sure. Safer because they came in controlled-dose pills free of mystery additives like those found in every batch of street heroin. But they are, by nature, addictive.

Every person who takes opioids will become physically dependent on the drug. This means that their brain chemistry changes when they take the drug regularly over a decent period of time. Basically, your brain stops producing its own opioids, which all of our brains do naturally every day, when we're taking daily doses of a synthetic opioid. The longer you take a synthetic opioid and the higher the dose, the more your brain is altered in response. If you stop, withdrawal symptoms appear because you are suddenly totally devoid of any opioids. That is why withdrawal symptoms for opioids include pain. You will just hurt, because the natural opioids produced by your brain are absent. Thankfully, the brain will go back to normal and start producing the right amount of opioids again over time. But it can take weeks.

Some people who take opioids will also become addicted to them. Addiction is different from physical dependence. Addiction is a chronic brain disease. There is a psychological component and a neurobiological component to this disease, and it can't be cured, only managed. Why some people become addicted and others don't has something to do with genetics and also something to do with environment. There have been experiments done that suggest that misery can fuel addiction - that happy, safe, and fulfilled beings will not develop addictions even to substances like heroin.

What I'm getting at is the "opioid epidemic" is a capitalist creation.

First, the desire for obscene profits that no one needs inspires some rich assholes to make a drug and lie about it being non-addictive, then pay doctors to prescribe it as much as possible. They market it aggressively as safe and awesome and then act surprised when people start using it to get high. They do this in a system that produces obscene amounts of suffering, and then act surprised when people become addicted to the feelings of peace and happiness these drugs offer.

What this creates is an addiction epidemic and an overdose epidemic, fueled largely by heroin and also fentanyl, which is an intensely potent opioid meant for the most intense cases of chronic pain, but added to batches of heroin to make a better high. But fentanyl's potent nature means that adding just a tiny bit more than you should can be fatal.

People start dying at alarming rates. Overdose deaths were a statistic every year, but starting around 2012, the line graphs spiked upward. This scares people, and the family members of the dead demand justice. Pharma companies get sued, but the lawsuits don't put a dent in their profits.

Then some people with good intentions start campaigns, and some politicians jump on board, probably mostly because they see an opportunity for political gain. Everybody forgets about chronic pain patients. Restrictions on opioids come out rapidly and doctors become afraid of losing their medical licenses. Today, we're seeing people getting cut off from medications they've used for years without overdosing or at all misusing them. We're seeing people who just got surgery or coming into the emergency room with horrible injuries given fucking Tylenol.

I have tension headaches that laugh at Tylenol. I don't have to take opioids, but before cannabis was legalized in the state of Washington, I was feeling pretty miserable sometimes.

Also, cannabis is not the solution to all of this. Severe chronic pain laughs in the face of cannabis.

My sister has severe endometriosis. She's gone to the doctor practically begging for something to dull her pain. Recently, she literally had a doctor look her in the eye and say "I am not going to let you become addicted to opioids."

Here's the fucked up thing. My sister is not prone to addiction. She quit cigarettes without too much trouble, and some studies say that nicotine is more addictive than heroin. She's also taken opioids before. Hell, most of us have. Before the opioid hysteria, I was prescribed Vicodin when I was barely an adult for things like post-wisdom teeth surgery pain. I didn't request it, nor did I need it. And maybe that was a problem. Maybe it should not have been given to me in that situation. I did, however, need it when I had a weird cyst on my ass in college that ended up needing to be lanced. That hurt like hell. The hydrocodone they gave me helped me get through the aftermath.

Did I try to use the rest to get high? You bet I did. It didn't really work.

Now chronic pain patients are saying, and just matter-of-factly, that they might have to kill themselves. Because you can't just live in severe pain all the time. I've felt some severe pain. For me, it stopped. If it never stopped? I'd be dead by now. I have no doubt about that.

Opioids are by no means the best or only solution to pain. But it's the best solution we have right now, and for many, it's the only reasonable solution they have. They know about dependence. They know the risk of addiction. And they're aware of the possibility of long-term damage to their bodies/brains from taking them daily for a longer period of time than anyone has been able to study the effects of opioids. They choose opioids anyway. What choice do they have, really?

If it weren't for the fact that opioids were pouring cash into the pockets of pharma CEOs, if it weren't for capitalism holding millions of people back and encouraging others to hold back progress for the sake of profits, I have no doubt that we'd have something much better and safer than opioids by now. But people under capitalism are motivated by profits, and not by making life better for their fellow humans. Those good people who would research and develop medicines only for the good of humanity are denied grants and bullied out of it by pharma companies. How do you make shit tons of money if somebody comes up with a better, safer painkiller? Better to lobby those fuckers out of existence.

Right now, we're in a shitty spot. People are still dying of overdoses while others suffer horribly without the medications they've relied on for years. Capitalism created a problem that can no longer be ignored, dismissed, or covered up. Now drug companies are scrambling to come up with the next magical elixir of false promises that will cause other problems, then blame those problems on the poor.

This won't stop until capitalism ends. Stop allowing evil people who only care about their own money and power to work a system that so easy to game when you have tons of money and power. Cut them off at the source. End capitalism.

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