For many living with chronic pain, getting medications that can ease their burden and provide some measure of relief is exceptionally difficult, and for some in Las Vegas and across the state, it is impossible.
The belief is that doctors in Nevada are scared that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will swoop in and press charges if they cross the line and prescribe “too many” painkillers, and they will lose their medical license, their livelihood, their freedom, and their reputation as a result. In response, many are choosing not to prescribe painkillers at all or to significantly reduce the number of patients that they will agree to treat for chronic pain. Many treatment plans for acute injuries come with no painkillers at all or a very small dose for just a few days.
Though conservative prescription of deadly pills is not a bad thing in itself, the fact that many patients are struggling with chronic pain and cannot get the care they need is a horrific repercussion of the opioid epidemic and the idea that the way to manage the problem is to prosecute and imprison. Many end up turning to the street to find some measure of relief, using heroin and any other opiate they can get despite the risk of overdose. Still others become suicidal, feeling that there is no hope for relief from their constant pain. Most say they are made to feel as if they are drug-seeking for no other reason than to support an ongoing addiction rather than seeking medical care for chronic pain.
Though doctors are likely making these choices to save their careers, it seems that if current prescriptions for painkillers were the cause of opiate addiction and overdose deaths then those rates would have seen significant change in recent years in Las Vegas, but that is not the case. In fact, even as the number of opiate prescriptions drop, the number of deaths attributable to opiate overdose continues to rise. What has not been documented is how many of those overdose deaths occurred when patients sought pain relief by using street drugs laced with fentanyl and died as a result, or how many people living with chronic pain committed suicide in order to find relief.
A Rock and a Hard Place
Doctors are in a tough position, genuinely wanting to help patients who need care but concerned that doing so by prescribing painkillers will cause them to lose everything and be unable to help anyone. Patients living with chronic pain are in a tough place as well, feeling as if they have nowhere to turn for help. Government agencies and legislators, too, are struggling to figure out the best way to manage the steadily climbing rates of opiate overdose with no option but to take the “trial and error” approach.
Some suggest that the correct response to handle the problem would be to legalize medical marijuana across the country and increase the use of controlled THC supplements in order to cut back on opioid prescriptions and reduce overdose deaths at the same time.
Meanwhile, as the powers that be attempt to find a solution, families continue to lose loved ones to addiction, and thousands in Nevada are struggling with an active addiction and a chronic pain problem. Though we are still trying to identify the efforts that will be effective as preventive measures, we do know that treatment can help.
No Alternative to Treatment
There is no cure for addiction, no matter what the drug of choice is; thus, the best option for those who are living with an active addiction and chronic pain is to seek intensive and comprehensive treatment. Treatment offers assistance not only in managing the addiction disorder but also in addressing chronic pain. It can take time, but it is possible to find balance in recovery and learn how to live a healthy life while managing pain and avoiding the risk of overdose.
Is now the time for you to consider the option of treatment that includes help for both chronic pain and addictive use of substances?