Cindy Perlin, LCSW
Many of the 100 million chronic pain patients in the United States have been depending on opioids to manage their pain, some for decades. In the last few years, concerns about addiction and deaths from prescription opioids have resulted in changes in guidelines regarding opioid use and a crackdown on physicians who prescribe opioids. Many physicians are refusing to continue prescribing opioids to their patients. Others are refusing to take on any new patients who have chronic pain. Patients who lose their doctors due to retirement, relocation, DEA prosecution or license revocation often have no place to turn for their medication.
There’ve been numerous reports of pain patients committing suicide after their doctor discontinued their opioids and they could no longer tolerate the unremitting pain. Other patients have resorted to street drugs. Others are living lives of quiet desperation, reporting that their ability to function, including their ability to work, has been greatly diminished because of their increased pain levels. Many have been forced to go through terrible withdrawals without help from any physician. No one is counting the number of affected patients but the number is probably large.
However, not all pain patients who were opioid dependent and stopped have fared badly. Some are doing much better. I’m sharing some of their stories here so others can learn from them.
John is 55 years old. In 1992 he injured his back at work and became disabled. He subsequently had five back surgeries, which involved removing discs and installing hardware. John also had a failed spinal cord stimulator trial. He now has five more discs pressing on his spine. John was on 1100mg of Oxycontin daily plus other medications. Now John manages his pain with marijuana that he grows himself and makes into an olive oil-based solution. The strain of marijuana he uses is high in THCA, a non-psychoactive anti-inflammatory. It took John two years to wean himself off of opioids, but now he is doing much better than when he was on the pharmaceuticals. He is in pain when he wakes up in the morning, but once he doses on his home made extract he feels pretty good for the rest of the day.
Janelle 36 years old. When she was a toddler she would wake up screaming in pain. Doctors dismissed her pain as “growing pains” and did nothing. She also developed migraines during childhood and lower back pain. In her mid-twenties, she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, cluster headaches, myofascial disease, degenerative discs and child-onset arthritis.
She was prescribed Cymbalta, Lyrica, Morphine, Flexoril, Topamax and Percocet. Even with all this medication, Janelle’s pain levels ranged from 7-10. Now Janelle manages her pain with herbal tinctures, kratom and CBD oil. Her daily pain levels now average about a 3 despite a very physically demanding job. If she overdoes things and is in more pain, she can get relief within 20 minutes by taking her herbal tinctures. Recently Janelle had a hysterectomy due to cervical cancer. She was put on IV opioids after her surgery which did not help her pain. She cried the whole time she was in the hospital. Once she got home and was able to take her tinctures and Kratom her pain significantly decreased.
Justin, who is now 25, broke his wrist and knuckles when he was 18 years old. He was put on Vicodin and liked the feeling. He kept going back to his doctor for more. After a month, his doctor refused to prescribe any more but it was too late. Justin was already addicted. Justin began buying methadone pills and heroin on the street. His life went quickly downhill. For the next six years he was in and out of detox but kept relapsing.
He had trouble getting and keeping a job and sold everything he owned to support his drug habit. Eight of his friends died of heroin overdoses and he still couldn’t stop using. Then he heard about kratom. Justin bought a sample pack of red vein kratom and never had the urge to use drugs again. Justin suffers from chronic low back pain, anxiety and depression and finds he can manage his symptoms with taking kratom twice a day. He has now been clean for eight months and has gone back to school for a machinist certificate.
Diane is 60 years old and the mother of 11 children. Her pain problems started 20 years ago with arthritis, thyroid issues, COPD, migraines, shingles and herpes zoster in her eyes. She was prescribed Vicodin, Morphine and Oxycodone, which she alternated for five years. She was also on steroids for her lung issues. The drugs helped a little to make her pain more tolerable.
In 2008 she had cardiac failure, collapsed and suffered a head injury. Her liver also was compromised. In 2009 Diane began using a nutritional product she had heard about many years before called Reliv, which contains vitamins, minerals, enzymes, phytonutrients and amino acids. Reliv is mixed with liquids to make shakes. Diane began drinking 8-10 shakes a day. After a week of using the product, Diane was able to get off all medication except for a couple of Tylenol with codeine. She has been using Reliv for eight years now, at 2-3 shakes a day, to manage all of her problems. She has also added exercise, breathing techniques and spiritual practices to her routine.
We already have what we need to help pain patients
The common thread in these success stories is that the patients had to take matters into their own hands. Though they eventually found success, they had to stumble around on their own to find solutions and have been on their own financially since insurance does not cover their treatments. Other pain patients are finding other solutions (stay tuned for part 2 of this article) under the same conditions.
We have to do better than this.
Cindy Perlin is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, certified biofeedback practitioner, chronic pain survivor and the author of The Truth About Chronic Pain Treatments: The Best and Worst Strategies for Becoming Pain Free. Her website is www.becomingpainfree.com.