I’m Daniel Malito and I’m addicted to opioids.
“What did he say?”
“His poor mother!”
Yup, I said it, I’m hopelessly addicted to opioids and I have been for almost two decades, and guess what – I don’t have any plans to stop. What can I say – I’m a loner, a rebel without a cause, and I like to spit in the eye of the man when he tells me what I can and can’t do. Living life on the edge I don’t play by anyone else’s rules. Oh, and I also suffer from crippling chronic pain.
Imagine a joint in your body, say a hip joint, had lost all of the cartilage padding that cushions the bones when they move. Bone-on-bone – sounds painful, yeah? Well, now imagine those bone ends look like the surface of the moon, with craters and jagged outcrops, and then imagine all those nooks and crannies mashing together every time you move. Now try to go about your daily routine. Congratulations! You’re me. Do you think you’d be able to get out of bed, drive a car, or be awesome? Exactly… and I do it with (an admittedly unique) style. None of that would happen, though, without the slew of medications derived from the poppy plant – the oft misunderstood and always popular, opioids.
Everyone is so angry about opioids. The cries ring out – “They were over prescribed!” “Opioids are too addictive!” “Morphine impregnated my daughter!” Err, look, we can all agree taking 80mg of OxyContin four times a day after spraining your ankle while running is probably overkill, unless you weigh 2000 pounds, and if that’s the case I doubt you’re doing much running. Mostly just laying around, I’d assume. Lots of KFC, whatever, I digress – the point is we can all agree that no one should be prescribed opioids for a simple sprain.
But what if that ankle sprain just kept hurting, and refused to heal? Every day the pain got a little bit more intense, a little bit more frequent, until, after six months, you were in excruciating pain all day, every day, and a black cloud of despair started to envelop you all the time.
After another two months, all you can think about is the throbbing, stabbing pain in your ankle. It keeps you awake at night and it’s so intense that during the day, you can’t concentrate on anything else because the pain is a white flame that burns constantly in the back of your brain, and it overwhelms everything else you try to concentrate on after a few minutes. You can’t do your work, your job suffers, your family and friends begin to notice you don’t want to do anything but stay in and try to sleep. You feel like there’s no escape, and depression sets in, and you offend the nostrils of anyone who gets too close. You start to feel like there’s no way to escape this prison that your body has become, and you cry as you wonder how things got so bad, so fast. Every day is a living Hell.
Finally, you are an inch away from giving up when, suddenly, someone throws you a lifeline. It doesn’t look like much, a small round pill derived originally from Morphine. You hungrily swallow the innocuous disc, and an hour later, you achieve relief on a scale you thought was impossible. This pill, this opioid narcotic, has worked a miracle – the pain has receded far enough for the real you to begin to peek out again! It’s such a welcome relief that it brings tears to your eyes and, gradually, you begin to resemble the person you were before pain consumed you and made you into a shell of your former self. Finally, a medication that restores your quality of life to a degree you never thought possible.
This is is what opioid medication was made for – an actual medical issue. The fact it also floods the brain with dopamine is just a side effect, but, again, a side effect that seems tailor-made for those who suffer chronic pain. Unfortunately, these days you can’t turn on the television without hearing about the demon pill OxyContin, and how all of society’s ills now derive from the overuse of opioids. Apparently, anyone who takes opioids is a plasma-selling stereo thief who would rob your mother for one more hit of that sweet, sweet morphine. Then they show that stock photo of a needle stuck in an arm next to an unsmoked cigarette burned all the way down – you know the one I mean. All of that is nonsense, I’m happy to say. My body is addicted to my opioid medication, yes, but in the same way that a diabetes patient’s body relies on insulin, or a boy band relies on hair gel – it’s addiction but not abuse, just the perfect amount to get the job done - and there’s the difference.
I don’t abuse opioids, and neither do most chronic pain sufferers. This has been borne out time and again by studies which prove the great majority of abusers get pain meds illicitly, whether from the street or from friends and family, and then go on to find illegal ways of perpetuating their habit, ending up with heroin because it’s cheap and easy to get. Trying to stop opioid abuse by stopping legit prescriptions would be like trying to stop prostitution by outlawing sex. Regular sexy people would be screwed, but not literally, and “hookin’s already illegal,” so Candi won’t give a damn, she gotta make dat money. Trying to control lawbreakers by making new laws is a logic that only seems to make sense in Washington DC.
I’m sure you’ve also heard that when OxyContin was first released, doctors were prescribing it for everything from scraped knees to uncool hairdos (it was the 90s). The reason? Supposedly the manufacturer told everyone it was “the bomb” and “totally not addictive according to this study.” Turns out that “this study” was just a letter to the editor someone wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine about a thing he noticed in his hospital. I’m not making this up, the letter, often referred to as an “extensive study,” and a “landmark report,” was quoted and re-quoted in a literary Ponzi scheme that Bernie Madoff said was “impressive.” Even if it were to be believed that responsible doctors simply took drug company salespeople at their word, you’d have to also completely ignore the fact that the drug was, and always has been, classified as a narcotic, and a powerful one at that. This means that physicians would have to somehow forget that a narcotic is addictive, and that addiction can lead to abuse, oh, and also that, um, people who aren’t missing a limb don’t need a powerful opioid. This was confirmed by my own doctors who, gasp, didn’t simply prescribe something because an “unbiased” source, like the manufacturer, told them to.
Listen, I’m not denying there’s a problem with opioid abuse, and that we don’t have to do a better job monitoring prescriptions in this country, but I hope I’ve convinced you that pain medications aren’t total evil. They are indispensable to people like me to maintain a quality of life worth living, and, just maybe, the things they’ve been telling you about the opioid epidemic aren’t exactly true. Morphine derivatives have been around for thousands of years, and this isn’t the first, or last, time they will be abused. Don’t condemn millions of us to a bedridden life of pain and suffering by changing laws that won’t matter anyway. Opioids are the cure for the disease of chronic pain, and taking them away will hurt a lot more people than it helps.