I get it. We have all just lost a guiding artistic light, and it might have something to do with a suspected overdose. Now we want to fix the problem, so “ban opioids” are starting to appear in my social media feeds. We can’t bring anyone back, but we can figure out the root of this problem.

My pills: a mix of prescriptions and supplements in a basket. None of these happen to be opioids,

I am in favor of what might help addicts, but in this case, fixing a problem is not as easy as banning something. There is a deeper problem, and opioid abuse is just one symptom. If you make opioids harder to obtain, you stigmatize my community, those with invisible illnesses and chronic pain. You make treatment and help even harder for us to obtain. We are so often seen as drug-seeking addicts.

People with chronic pain and severe health conditions often need opioids. The harmful myth is that everyone who pops painkillers is an addict. But many studies say that chronic pain patients are not the majority of those who become addicted; the pills often don’t give a “buzz” when you’re just trying to fight to function. Instead, they usually just help with sleep. In fact, there’s a huge difference between needing a pill to function and being addicted.

Dr. Howard Fields, professor of neurology at University of California, San Francisco, is quoted on “Here and Now” WBUR’s blog:

The greater problem is that there’s a huge reluctance in general of physicians to prescribe adequate medication for people who really are in pain and have a very low risk of becoming addicted. That’s the big problem. I think if you read the actual epidemiological data and the data from insurance companies and health organizations, it suggests that the vast majority of people are undertreated for their pain and I think that that’s in part due to the scare of overdosing and having the drugs diverted and making somebody who never was an addict and never had a drug abuse problem into an addict. My position on that is that’s very rare. I know people are being undertreated for pain. Opioids are the most effective pain relievers we now have. You want to use them optimally, but you want to use them when they’re necessary.


There are very few comprehensive pain clinics, especially for chronic pain.

Doctors may prescribe opioids too often for minor injuries that get in the wrong hands (this is called “diversion”), but the problem is not chronic pain patients, who manage their meds and know where they are. The problem is the 15-minute doctor visit, which is driven by a healthcare system more concerned with the bottom line that our health. “You hurt your shoulder? Here’s a scrip, I gotta go.” I believe there would be fewer unnecessary opioid prescriptions if we had a comprehensive healthcare system that was open to everyone.

If we had comprehensive healthcare reform, someone who did develop an addiction to opioids, they could get help—but right now rehab is also out of reach for many people without insurance. (It’s true, not genius singers. They could afford to go. Addiction is so hard and hearbreaking and stigmatized for so many reasons. And it often starts because people are in chronic pain and not medicated effectively, so they turn to a cocktail of their own creation.)

When someone dies of a drug overdose, don’t say that opioids are the problem, because in a country with a broken healthcare system, those drugs are one of the few tools for survival that people in chronic pain have to get through the day. Opioid abuse is a symptom of a deeper problem, and that is our healthcare system.

4 responses to “My pills”

  1. Thank you thank you thank you! I take tramadol for my fibromyalgia and always feel stigmatized, having to go to a pain management clinic for something that’s not even a narcotic. I’ve been on tramadol, same dose, for more than eight years without change, without becoming addicted, without selling pills, and so on and so forth. You’re so right, people with chronic pain will suffer from tighter restrictions. Addicts will still get high. Nothing will be solved without fixing the healthcare system. Thank you again for your post!


  2. Banning anything with such a broad brush has never worked, since anything that is banned will inevitably spawn a black market in the product. The more important consideration is that such a ban will hurt more than it will help or save. Governments and healthcare authorities know the answers, but as is often the case, the answers require financial resources which governments rarely or adequately prioritize. And as usual, the most vulnerable are the ones who suffer most as a result of governments’ bureaucratic and strategic incompetency.


  3. MIght be better for people to demand that pharm companies stop all the high dollar ads everywhere (TV, newspaper, magazines, FaceBook) suggesting their expensive pill is the solution to problems ( real or imagined) and actually handing people (“go to this website”) a sheet telling a person exactly what to say (complaints, symptoms) in order to get their doc to prescribe a certain medication.
    Not saying ban the drugs, but hand them back to the doctor and quit all the advertising directly to the public, All the expensive promo only adds to the cost of the pills.
    Keep real information ( not persuasive promo) on line for patients to read and understand what the prescribed medication from doctors can, will, may do.
    General public need realistic expectations about life – you don’t need a pill to solve all your problems and sometimes life is a bit ouchie. Maybe try a little walk outside instead of a happy pill maybe yoga or drinking more water/diet change for simple headaches?
    And stop letting insurance companies tell docs what drugs they can prescribe. THis whole “step” process of try this (cheaper) drug first is not compassionate – and put insurance companies in the role of a doctor.
    You are right. These celebrity overdoses create problems for those who need prescription drugs for real pain. (And really, all this celeb. overdose information should remain private within their families – the general public is just too darn nosy)
    OK getting off my soap box, but it drives me crazy.


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