Even before the Washington Post profiled chronic-pain sufferers for whom the war on opioids is having unintended consequences, a student in my narrative medicine class drew on the experiences of his own mother to explain how the crackdown on the opioid abuse has failed to take into account the very people the drugs were intended to help.
Every day that I have known my mother, Michelle, is a day that she has had to deal with excruciating pain. For years, she has suffered from Tarlov Cysts, also known as sacral nerve root cysts. These cysts are expansions of the nerve sheath, which ultimately causes a sac filled with cerebral spinal fluid to form. Because they are normally found lower on the vertebrae, they can eventually affect bladder and bowel control, and without proper medication, the unceasing pain they cause can eventually become incapacitating. Chronic pain is, by definition, frequently incessant, and leaves sufferers with very few treatment options, one of those being opioids. These few treatment options are what makes the pain bearable enough to go about daily activities. The public hears far more about the negative impact of opioids on our society than the life-changing relief they offer to those without other options. For such sufferers, the current attempt to curb opioid abuse by strictly monitoring and limiting the quantity at which they are prescribed has severe consequences for their quality of life. Continue reading →