Living with Pain and Hep C in an “Opioid Crisis” Era
Living with any pain, whether acute (shorter duration) or chronic (ongoing). In medical terms, these are two terms that are used outside of the strictest definition of their meaning. Having a broken leg and dealing with the pain that comes with such a trauma, this pain is acute and will diminish with normal healing, unless there is an underlying and ongoing cause.
Pain and Hep C
Pain is common in people with hep C who have developed symptoms. This pain can be mild and, in some cases, extreme. How a person deals with pain (pain threshold) varies from one person to another. Anxiety can amplify pain, as I experienced in my most anxious days. Calmness was not part of my day or night, and typically these things can affect diet, activity, sleep and on and on, all contributing to diminished wellness and therefore more dramatic pain sensation.
We are now in an era of the “opioid crisis” as we hear about in the news, and in conversations around the sharp increase in overdose cases resulting in unparalleled numbers of deaths. These deaths are caused mostly by illicit fentanyl added to street drugs like meth and heroin, and now cocaine and illicit prescription drug lookalikes. What has this meant, aside from the terrible tragedies that have left tens of thousands dead from these overdoses? There has been in my view, a rush, considering the numbers and urgency, to look for where to assign blame when there should be a focus in other areas such as full on harm reduction for people who are using street drugs.
A Serious Problem for People Experiencing Pain
As the finger pointing and blaming ramped up, doctors and some others have adopted policies that make it very difficult for people to access pain medications that may have given them years of service in pain management. All of this in an attempt to reduce addiction and apparently linked to fentanyl made in China and sold on the street. These are very different environments for most people who seek pain relief from injury or disease. This is not to say that the street-level drug use is not a massively pressing and devastating problem, which is not at all my message. They are separate but inextricably linked by one thing and that is addiction. The fear and dread about addiction has brought about a dangerous environment for drug users and a more pain filled life for many from our hep C community and elsewhere across several health conditions that cause chronic pain.
As a person who has lived with hep C and chronic pain, I know how pain robs us of so much in life. My own addictions have not been with street-level drugs, but I have certainly had dependencies on some drugs such as anti-anxiety drugs that were very difficult to taper off. It took 6 months and it was not easy at all, to say the least. Without the support I had available to me, it could have gone very bad. The idea, which has become a reality for some people is that as their doctors stop their pain medications suddenly, that some people have been forced to seek drugs from the street, which in the era of fentanyl is a dangerous and potentially life-ending option.
In a recent conversation with a primary care doctor, he shared that few of his colleagues would understand the necessary and appropriate ways to help someone taper off medications over time or to look at alternative therapy. This is a subject that far too often causes an emotional response in people. Sadly addiction is a part of our human experience, and some cause great harm while others are managed easily. As an example, cigarette smoking was never framed so much as an addiction issue but a cause of lung cancer, which devastates people over time. Addiction is complicated and I do not suppose to know the answer. But many questions are yet to be answered and dealt with in a way that will save lives and promote better health and quality of life for all of us. As someone who is not an addiction expert, I base my views on real-life experience and the real-world observations I have made over decades with friends, family and our communities.