There's a War on Opioids. They Are Its Collateral Damage

How sufferers of chronic pain became 'pain refugees'
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 22, 2018 7:30 PM CDT
In this April 20, 2017 photo, a Maine resident shows some of the medication he takes for chronic back pain. Many residents who suffer from debilitating pain fear the state's toughest-in-the-nation opioid...   (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

(Newser) – After years of having their condition misunderstood, sufferers of chronic pain now find themselves in the position of being, as one patient puts it, collateral in the country's war on drugs. Harper's takes a long look at self-described "pain refugees," who need opioids to do everything from getting their kids dressed for school to just getting out of bed but who find themselves suddenly unable to get the necessary prescriptions as the US tackles its growing opioid crisis. Last June, overdose became the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. The blame is falling squarely on the healthcare industry. “There’s a desire for something simple to latch onto as a way of explaining it," one addiction specialist says. "A story that has a clear-cut villain, with doctors as dupes and patients as innocent victims, is about as easy to sell as any story.”

But the real story is a lot more nuanced than that. High-dose opioid prescriptions dropped 41% between 2010 and 2015 at the same time overdose deaths increased 37%. And the majority of opioid misuse is not committed by people with opioid prescriptions. But what really hurts sufferers of chronic pain is people confusing physical dependence on opioids for addiction. "Someone who is physically dependent on opioids as a result of the treatment of pain but who is not craving more or harming themselves or others is not addicted,” FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb says. In fact, studies have found under 8% of Americans prescribed opioids for chronic pain are addicted. That hasn't helped sufferers like Austin Sell, whose chronic pain has forced him from jobs and wrecked his marriage. “I’m a big black guy with tattoos,” he says. “They accused me of exhibiting drug-seeking behavior.” Read the full story here. (Read more Longform stories.)

The best longform stories, in one weekly email.
My Take on This Story
Show results without voting  |  
2%
12%
57%
9%
13%
7%