What If No One Can See Your Pain?
Have you noticed the trend of celebrities dying from medications? I can think of Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse, and most recently Whitney Houston? Do you think they should restrict the use of painkillers to prevent this?--T.W., Birmingham, Alabama
Answer: No, people in pain should not have to suffer because others abuse their medicine. At the time of my writing, Whitney's death has not been officially ruled as drug-related, although her history would make it seem obvious. Regardless of the coroner's ruling, I think it's important we not lay 100 percent of the blame on medicine for celebrity deaths. The intention of these medications is not to cause death, it's to offer temporary relief to millions of users who take as directed. Tranquilizers can ease grief and anxiety. Analgesics relieve pain and offer quality of life. It is the misuse and abuse of analgesics and tranquilizers often combined with alcohol that have a deadly impact, not the medicine itself. If someone cuts their wrists, do you blame the knife?
Many people are outraged at the medication, or their makers, but you can't possibly understand the other side of this story unless you've been there yourself. Imagine this.
You have a medical condition that affects your nervous system like multiple sclerosis, or perhaps you have low back pain from a car accident. In other words, it's a pain that is hard to see unlike a broken leg in a cast. You can tolerate the pain if you take hydrocodone every day. You've lost your job because of your disabilities, so you're not dressed as sophisticated as the other customers. Pharmacist Jones is skeptical of you, she thinks you might be an addict, and he doesn't like you showing up in her pharmacy every 30 days like clockwork for your 60 pills. She fears you will bring your friends, and word will get out that she dispenses narcotics to pretty much anyone.
You forgive her judgement, you just need your medicine so you can get out of bed every morning and get through your day. One day you are turned away because your doctor prescribed 180 tablets instead of 60. The physician only wrote for that large amount because he knows that you can no longer afford to see him monthly, so he prescribed enough to hold you over for three months (this practice is not uncommon). Maybe you live out of town, so he prescribes a lot. Regardless, the pharmacist perceives 180 tablets as 'excessive' and tells you she's out of stock. In pain, and shame, you or your wife (or caretaker) must drive to several other pharmacies until a compassionate pharmacist fills your prescription. Fair?
Pharmacists are naturally cautious about what they dispense, but when celebrities die from drugs, it occurs because of a series of very bad decisions, not the medicine itself. Restricting medicine at the pharmacy level will never stop the problem and besides, chronic pain patients should never have to pay the price for substances abusers.