Charleston City Paper-A Fear Greater than Pain

published October 23, 2002

She was only 16 the night she walked into the kitchen and discovered her mother passed on the floor. It wasn’t an accident or stroke, it was a drug overdose. While it sounds like the first paragraph of a bad novel or something you might see on Jerry Springer, it happened to me 30 years ago. My mother, a registered nurse, knew all the right words to say to her doctors so they would prescribe the drugs she craved. That night, as I ran screaming across the front yard to wake the next door neighbor because I thought she was dead, I swore that monkey would never be allowed to make a home on my back.

Fast forward to today and let’s sneak a peek into my medicine cabinet. Tums for the calcium, assorted lotions and creams, several sample sized bottles of cosmetics, hmmm, what’s missing? NO DRUGS! No aspirin, no Tylenol, no small round bottles from the local pharmacy bearing unpronounceable names.

Drugs eventually played a part in my mother’s death and because of that I live with the very real fear of drug addiction; but I am by no means stupid or reckless with my health. I get an infection; I call my doctor, take the prescribed course of antibiotics, and feel better. What I don’t take is any pain medication, over the counter or prescribed.

So you ask, “What about headaches or the occasional ache or pain?” Headaches are only something I hear my husband complain about or discussed in TV commercials. I can count on one hand the number of headaches I’ve had in my entire life. For the rare backache or muscle pull I treat myself with hot/cold compresses and mind relaxation therapy; I am a very firm believer in the mind/body connection.

Because drug addiction, especially addiction to prescription medications, is so prevalent in today’s society, I’m sure my fear, while manifested under different circumstances, is felt by a large majority of the population. Many health care professionals are reluctant to prescribe needed pain medications because they fear their patients will become addicted. While for those who do, in many cases, their patients refuse to take the recommended dosage needed because of that same fear.

Today with alternative medicine becoming mainstream there are more options for controlling pain than just popping a pill or being injected with a strong narcotic. These doctors are trained to help their patients control pain through a variety of methods. They discuss addiction with their patients, educate them on the difference of addiction vs physical dependence, and then if they are still adamant about no drugs, explore different methods of coping with their pain such as bio-feedback, acupuncture and acupressure, herbal remedies,massage therapy, and lifestyle changes.

Cutting-edge pharmaceutical manufacturers have created many new and exciting potions considered by some to be “miracle drugs.” The narcotic Oxy-Contin offers an increasing analgesic effect in increased doses. In plain English that means the more you take, the better your feel. While people with unrelenting pain have had phenomenal relief with Oxy-Contin the danger on unintentional addiction is a real concern. Purdue Pharma, Oxy-Contin’s manufacturer, has begun warning physicians to be alert for signs of dependence in their patients. For street addicts bypassing the controlled release mechanism by chewing, snorting, or injecting Oxy-Contin, they experience an instant and intense high much like that of injecting high-grade heroin.

Oxy-Contin addiction has been featured on several news programs recently. In checking with law enforcement agencies from Folly Beach to North Charleston, all agree that Oxy-Contin, at the present time, is not a problem here. But all were quick to say that since it is such an epidemic in other parts of the United States, it’s only a matter of time before it reaches the Lowcountry.

Is a fear of drug addiction a legitimate concern to someone with chronic pain due to an accident, disease, or illness? Certainly it seems that way with Oxy-Contin. Is dependence any stronger with Oxy-Contin that it was when Dilaudid was the drug of choice several years ago or is it just the newest kid on the block soon to be replaced by something stronger and even more addictive?

These are concerns that need to be addressed with your physician before that prescription, whether for Oxy-Contin or any other pain reliever, is written. Openly discuss your fears, and, if your apprehensions are not taken seriously, then certainly consider choosing another health care professional.

It is your life, and your health, both mental and physical, and it only makes sense that you be an active participant.