This documentary powerfully tells the story of three families who struggle with Substance Use Disorder and why we need to do better in how we manage pain in this country. Our family could have been in this documentary. This story is our story and the story of far too many families. June use to signal the the beginning of things I loved: the end of school, the start of summer and my son Taylor’s birthday. Sadly it now rolls in like a heavy fog of dread as it amplifies the hole that exists in our lives. Taylor died in June of 2019 from an accidental overdose. His battle and our battle to save him began after a shoulder surgery and an opiate prescription to manage his pain at the end of his freshman year of high school No one asked me if he was at risk for addiction, educated me about the risks of opiates, gave me non-opioid pain management options, explained to me that developing brains are even more at risk, or that having anxiety and ADD put him at greater risk for addiction. Never in my life has any doctor for any member of my family talked about these things when prescribing opiates and we are an athletic family with more than our fair share of surgeries and injuries.
I use to joke about our orthopedic office having our families’ picture on the wall as a way to thank us for all our business. In truth, the people who are charged with doing no harm are contributing to that harm in a significant way. We are needlessly putting young people and adults at risk by handing people opiate prescriptions without any conversation to assess risk or educate patients about the dangers of one of the most addictive drugs on the planet. Diverted opiates are another issue since 80% of heroin users report starting with pain meds they found in medicine cabinets or the homes of loved ones. Wisdom teeth are another popular place where opiates are prescribed without education, divulging the risks of opiates or giving non-opioid options. When Taylor and Blair had their wisdom teeth out Taylor was in recovery and I actually had an argument with our oral surgeon who insisted that they would both need the opiate prescription he was trying to hand me a month before they actually had the surgery. I asked if he understood that Taylor was in recovery and had a Substance Use Disorder. He understood but continued to be insistent. I was blown away and sadly this is not uncommon. By the way, they both managed the pain of that procedure with over the counter anti-inflammatories and NSAIDs.
Why in the world is our own healthcare system contributing to this epidemic when we are on track to kill over ninety thousand people this year an increase of almost 40%. No other disease is raging this out of control or killing this many people. Yet we continue to prescribe. The why is in part because many current healthcare providers were taught that pain is the 5th symptom and if you don’t treat it you are not doing your job. This also occurred about the time we started to publicly rate our healthcare providers. Another factor is MONEY, the root of so much evil in the world. Big Pharma sold all of us down the river with the lie that opiates were not addictive and managed pain incredibly well. While that lie has been debunked it has not stopped our dependence on these drugs. Opiates don’t cut into hospital bottom lines and come out of our pharmacy benefits where other non-opioid solutions might be covered but may come out of the doctor’s compensation or not be part of hospital contracts. Many non-opioid options are not carved out and passed on to us as consumers thus coming out of the doctor’s bottom line. I think lastly the other piece is that many doctors like most of us, do what they know. Change is difficult and frankly opiates keeps us from calling doctors in first few days after a procedure when pain is the most intense. I don’t think doctors prescribing opiates have any idea who they are addicting. We did not go tell the orthopedist that prescribed the opiates after Taylor struggled with addiction what that prescription had done.
“The USA makes up 5% of the world’s population but uses 95% of the world’s opiate supply.”James Comey, Former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation
Ask yourself how this could possibly happen in our country.
Make no mistake about it, the only sure way to make sure you are not at risk for addiction is to not take them in the first place. There are doctors managing surgeries and pain without opiates and while they are not in the majority and are truly swimming upstream against the tide of common practice they are out there. These upstream measures are saving lives and we need it to become the norm in how we manage pain.
I am part of several efforts to change how our healthcare system manages pain. I want doctors to have control over what is best for their patients but we should be exhausting non-opioid options before riskier options are considered. I am not saying there is not a place for opiates in managing pain but it should not be given to young people without laying out all the risks and options. Continuing to play Russian Roulette with our children’s brains is not okay. There is a saying I have heard for years, “no one starts with heroin”, but sadly they do when they are prescribed opiates for orthopedic injuries, wisdom teeth, and so many other procedures. When Taylor was given that prescription his brain felt “normal” for the first time. His brain chased that normal for four years to some of the darkest places you can imagine. I wouldn’t wish what he went through, what we went through, on my worst enemy. SO until the healthcare industry does better we need to DEMAND better as parents for our children and for ourselves. One way you can help is to support current legislation call the NOPAIN Act. It is currently before Congress and has the ability to truly save lives. Please go to this link and encourage your representatives to support this piece of legislation. https://nonopioidchoices.org/action-center/. I hope you will take a few minutes to watch the documentary above and share it with everyone you know. #GatewayFilms, #NoOneChoosesAddiction, #DemandBetter.