Truth in the Opioid Crisis

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It wasn’t screaming “look at me” but I was pretty sure I saw it. I went back and read the words again. Yep, there it was. It was a classic case of a “strawman argument.” A contested idea was stated followed by an obvious statement that no one is contesting. The intended effect was to prove the contested statement by forcing agreement with the obvious.

When I subscribed to Arthritis Today, I had hoped it would be a safe place to experience reading articles that would either prove to be practical or, at least, empathetic. Maybe I could read other stories that reminded me of my own.

What I did not want to find was another source for spreading misinformation about the opioid crisis. If that subject was discussed I had hoped it would represent both sides of the discussion: those pushing greater restrictions on opioid access and those negatively impacted by less access to opioids. To be sure, I won’t judge the magazine by this one slip up, but this one certainly got my bias detection antenna going.

The quote was from Seoyoung Kim, MD, and professor, “But many studies found no benefit of using opioids chronically in non-cancer pain. No single pain killer can get rid of chronic pain completely.”

Did you catch it? The first sentence is certainly not universally accepted. If there are “many studies” that find no benefit of the chronic use of opioids in pain patients, then might there be other studies that show the opposite. Certainly, I know many sincere people who struggle with chronic pain who would contest that statement on anecdotal grounds. Is their perspective to be dismissed?

The second sentence in the quote is a statement that no one is making, especially by those in chronic pain. Most people do not take opioids to “get rid of chronic pain completely,” but to reduce their pain to a manageable level. If they are denied access to these medicines, they may soon find their life unbearable. But don’t they know, “Many studies found no benefit of using opioids chronically…”?

I apologize for the sarcasm. I am just honestly turned off by this kind of dishonest argumentation. A woman commented on another post this week that she hates anytime that she needs her prescribed opioids. She isn’t taking them because she wants to, but because she has to.

But if you want to know why the misleading rhetoric upsets me, it is because of the life and death consequences of taking pain meds away from those who need them. Read this article about what happened to Jay Lawerance. From that same article, here’s a different perspective from another MD, a perspective that needs to be heard:

“We have a terrible problem. We have people committing suicide for no other reason than being forced to stop opioids, pain medication, for chronic pain,” said Thomas Kline, a North Carolina family doctor and former Harvard Medical School program administrator.

“It’s mass hysteria, a witch hunt. It’s one of the worst health care crises in our history,” said Kline, who has 26,000 Twitter followers, and a website where he publishes the names of those who he said committed suicide after having their opioids cut back or eliminated. “There are five to seven million people being tortured on purpose.”

As the rest of that article makes clear, this is a complicated issue. It is also clear that some of the complications result from misunderstandings of the CDC guidelines or overly cautious doctors, who are afraid of getting into trouble. There needs to be honest dialogue about these issues. Straw man arguments help no one.

From a Christian perspective, opioids are not evil. They may be quite literally a godsend when used in the right situations. Abuse of any drug is harmful, but the vast majority of chronic pain patients that have opioid prescriptions are not drug abusers. They need those drugs so they don’t want to kill themselves. Let that sink in.  

Except for the grace of God, there go I.


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Leaving the Judgment Seat for the Ash Heap

The post below is from a Wednesday night devotional I gave recently at our church. Because it was the same day that I wrote my last blog post, similar thoughts were on my mind when I wrote the devotional. It isn’t really part two, but it is a related entry into this blog. You might say it deals more generally with being a friend to those who are hurting and does not focus only on chronic pain. I hope it is an encouragement to you!

1/30/19 – Wednesday Night Devotional

I’ve been reading through Job as part of my preparation for this current sermon series.  But since the series focuses on Job’s questions, we don’t get to deal much with his friends, other than noticing when their insensitivity causes him to ask even more despairing questions. Job isn’t the happiest of topics, but I think it is a vitally important book.  I also read C.S. Lewis’ book A Grief Observed, today.  It took me about an hour.  I tell you that because it is well worth your time, but it is a little like Job; it is painfully honest.  I was also working on a blog today for my chronic pain support ministry.  The post was directed toward those who support those in chronic pain.  So, all this to say, that pain and grief have been on my mind, not the cheeriest subjects, but practically I want to say something today about what makes a good friend and what doesn’t to those who are suffering. 

Job’s friends do him no good in his misery after the first seven days.  When they begin to talk, they push him closer to the edge of despair.  They might be the original inspiration for the phrase, “With friends like you, who needs enemies.”  But it too easy to paint them as bad friends and pretend that we are not just like them in some ways.  They weren’t actually bad friends in some important ways. 

First of all, they came to Job in his need.  Many “friends” would avoid Job at all costs.  But they interrupted their busy lives and they traveled to Job.  Apparently, they were willing to leave their families and concerns behind to be with Job indefinitely.  They sit with him a week before they say anything of substance.  Most of us would get impatient with silence after ten minutes. 

When they speak, they make two horrible errors.  One is an instinct gone awry.  The other is caused by bad theology.  The instinct is to want to fix someone.  They see Job in horrible suffering.  They cannot just let that be.  They think they can fix Job with their good advice.  They lose the perspective of the ash heap and instead now assume the perspective of a benevolent judge.  We know what is wrong, Job, and if you will but listen to us, all will be well.  Their quest to fix Job becomes more important than Job himself. 

Their bad theology comes from the prevailing thought of the day.  If something terrible has happened to you, then it can only be because you deserved it.  They think Job is hiding a big secret and that if he would only come clean, then God would restore his fortunes.  They are so convinced of this that they can consider no other options.  Their fix-it instinct combined with bad theology leads to alienating Job and almost does what losing everything and suffering terrible pain could not do…sever Job’s relationship with God. 

I’m sure no one here has ever made one of these errors!  I had a good friend

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who grieved the loss of his dog like it was his child.  Even allowing for the fact that he had no children, I felt like the pity party had gone on long enough.  So, I wrote him a long e-mail about how his affections were misplaced and revealed he really loved his dog more than God, or something to that effect!  I was trying to fix him.  I was presumptuous with what I thought I knew about his relationship with God relative to his dog.  I was wrong. 

We are better friends from the ash heap instead of the judgment seat.  Jesus left the judgment seat for a cross and told his friends, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn. 15:13).  Job’s friends started out that way but lost their way.  Let’s be a friend to those who are hurting that resembles Jesus more than Job’s friends. 

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Loving Those in Chronic Pain

My ministry normally focuses on saying an encouraging, faith-building word (hopefully) to those struggling with chronic pain. I don’t often address those outside that circle, but I want to do so today. My intended audience, today, are those of you who love someone in chronic pain. There are a few things I want to say to you that hopefully will be beneficial to all involved.

First of all, we (those of us dealing with chronic pain) are not different than you. Everyone has pain in life and pain comes in many forms. Do forgive us if sometimes our “you can’t possibly understand” attitude comes off as elitist, as if we belong in a special category of suffering. Pain, of all kinds, is always deeply personal and no good comes out of trying to “one-up” each other over the kind of pain we are dealing with, like two old war veterans dueling by showing off old battle scars!

However, something profound has happened to those of us in chronic pain. We eventually lose our sense of remembering what it was like to not be in pain. I think this is what we aim to express when we saying something like, “You don’t understand what I am going through.” That sentiment is born out of the frustration of how difficult it is to relate what we really feel, not just the sensation of constant pain, but the nearly inexpressible ways that our fight with pain has impacted everything else.

Also, please forgive us when we inadvertently diminish your pain. When your back hurts, it isn’t somehow lessened because mine has hurt every day for the last few years. I mean that sincerely. If anything, I should be growing in empathy for any kind of suffering of those close to me. It is a knee-jerk reaction, that my first thought is about myself when I hear about your pain instead of showing concern for you. I noticed that the “we” fell out of my writing in this paragraph and the “I” became prominent. I know I cannot speak for all those with chronic pain when discussing my failings, but I have a suspicion that most fellow spoonies can relate.

Job on the ash heap

We do love those who share this painful journey with us. Truthfully, we couldn’t do it without you. I do hope you will believe us when we tell you we are hurting. It is by nature hard to tell people that you love “no” and a burden to disappoint others. So, please know that when we tell you that we can’t do something that we have measured that decision before we declared it.

And above all, please do not try to fix us by encouraging us to be mentally tougher, or trying the latest remedy you read on the internet, or heard from your hair stylist. There is no magic cure for those who are chronically ill. We have spent countless hours with doctors and other medical professionals trying to get our lives as manageable as possible. We probably have tried various diets (and some may have helped). We have learned how to be resourceful and seek out information that we need. You are very, very unlikely to possess the key to our better health, no matter how well giving up diet sodas worked out for Aunt Suzie.

We don’t need to be fixed, but we do need your love and support. We need you to believe us and listen to us. Every once in a while, we may just need to vent or cry a bit about how difficult our life has become. If you want to help, join us on the ash heap and cry with us a while. We won’t stay in that state forever. We know how to pick up ourselves up and carry on. We’ve been doing it for a while now.

Sometimes this is all we need to know!

We love you and we want to support you. We need your love and support. If we never had to deal with chronic pain, that would still be true. It isn’t truer because of chronic pain, but we may be more aware of the need we have for each other. And in that, there may be a blessing. Let’s be sure we don’t waste it!

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“Being” Over “Doing”

I’ve already heard from some of my local friends that the gyms are packed with folks determined (for now) to make 2019 a healthier and more fit year. I also have a gym membership and I confess I haven’t been since November. I do have my own goals of losing weight (an annual ritual) and I would like to get back into the gym, but I haven’t made any resolutions to that effect.

Having chronic pain may rule out too much physical activity and your energy is dedicated to just surviving each day. If you have a disease like me (ankylosing spondylitis), exercise can help you manage symptoms and slow down the progress of the disease. For others, anything beyond just getting out of bed and moving minimally throughout the day is just out of the question.

Whatever your goals or resolutions, be kind to yourself this year! Americans place too much value on doing instead of being. Our attitude on how we value ourselves and others can be summed up by the phrase “what have you done for me lately?” Just recently, I realized that some acute stress was piling up, and through prayer, I discovered that all the stress was related to feeling pressure to get things done. I was reminded that my value is in not what I do or don’t do, but who I am. Those who love me, see me for who I am, and not just what they expect from me. The stress levels went down.

When a baby is born, her parents love her before she has done anything. If a tragic disability takes away that child’s ability to do anything in her future, the parents love her still. God loves us like parents who fawn over their newborn. And when we are not able to do everything that we expect of ourselves, not to mention what others expect, God does not love us any less!

I am not saying that God places no expectations upon those who follow them for how they live their lives. But these expectations are usually related again to who a person is, what their character reveals, not simply what they do. If you are a dishonest person, then that is certainly a concern to God. However, if a disease robs you of your production at home, in the workplace, or even in church ministries, you do not cease to be who you are.

Make some resolutions if that suits you. But maybe you should also resolve to value yourself for who you are and not simply what you do. That might take some pressure off and 2019 might pass by with less stress and more peace!

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Christmas With Chronic Pain

Merry Christmas! I don’t intend to write a long blog, as this is a time for family for us all. I did want to share a brief devotional I wrote for a support group on Facebook. I am just going to copy and paste it here. I do think it is meaningful, because if we believe the story of God coming to us in Christ to embrace all the suffering of humanity and to give us victory over even death, then we have much to find merriness even in the midst of pain. So, Merry Christmas…the devotional is below.

I want to begin my meditation from Heb. 2:9:

9 But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

None of us chose our suffering, but Jesus chose his for all of us. I need to remember that when my pain seems unending. No, my pain is chronic, but it is not eternal.

He chose to taste death for everyone. Maybe Jesus didn’t have chronic pain from disease, but he embraced pain and suffering and even death for the salvation of us all. None of us have suffered as Jesus did on the cross and he suffered that way so that our suffering would one day come to an end. As you think about Jesus as a baby in a manger, remember he was there because he chose to be, knowing full well what that choice would bring him. Jesus is “Immanuel”, God with us, and that means a lot to those who are hurting.

How does knowing that Jesus chose to embrace suffering and death help you deal with your own suffering?

How is Jesus Immanuel today? How is he with us?

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Chronic Pain — Hot Links 12/11/18

I’ve been away from my blog for a while.  It wasn’t a planned break, just the result of an unusually busy time colliding with holiday trips and such.  Anyway, I hope that you had a good Thanksgiving and are ready for Christmas…oh, and 2019 is around the corner!

But I’ve been doing some reading and I want to share with you.  Here are some of the latest links relevant to chronic pain and faith:  

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The God Who Reverses Our Pain

Jesus gives a memorable parable in Luke 16 and it is striking that it is the only parable where a character is given a name.  Normally, Jesus’ parables included a simple description of a character, a Samaritan, a son, a father, a farmer, etc.  So, it is striking to read about “Lazarus” in Luke 16 and he appears opposite another unnamed character simply described as a “rich man.”

Later in the parable, both Lazarus and the rich man have reached their afterlife and they find themselves in opposite circumstances to each other and to what they were accustomed to in life.

The rich man is in torment and experiences an unquenchable thirst.  He looks across a gulf and sees Lazarus by Abraham’s side and begs for Lazarus to dip his finger in the water and be allowed to place it upon the rich man’s tongue.  Lazarus is not permitted to relieve the rich man because of the chasm between them, but also because their opposite circumstances reflect divine judgment.  Abraham tells the rich man, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.”  rich man and lazarus

Lazarus had suffered greatly in life.  He was infested by sores on his body and had suffered such humiliation that even dogs licked his sores.  All of this is happening in full view of the rich man who enjoys his life of luxury without a second thought for Lazarus.  The message of Jesus’ parable is not hard to discern.  To ignore the suffering of others while indulging in luxury is a damnable offense.  If we will not take pity on others, then we will not experience pity in the life to come.

There’s another aspect of this parable, though, I believe is important.  It is concerning what God does for Lazarus.  Though it is a parable, there have always been a lot of Lazarus’ in the world.  Lazarus is someone who likely suffered from some kind of chronic condition, and in his world compromised health meant poverty, and poverty meant a life of begging.  And there may have been many times that Lazarus wondered if God cared about him and why God had allowed these things to happen to him.  God might have seemed disturbingly silent when he cried out to God for help.

And yet here is Lazarus at Abraham’s side being comforted for eternity.  Lazarus is enjoying a glorious new reality that far outweighs his suffering for the few years he was on earth.  Suffering is never easy.  Pain is still pain.  In the midst of it, it seems never-ending.  The story of Lazarus is a good reminder that pain is not eternal, at least, it doesn’t have to be.  God will remedy all that was wrong in our lives in the life to come.  God didn’t forget Lazarus even when everyone else did.  He knew his name and knows yours too.  welcome home

I am not saying that suffering is an automatic ticket to heaven.  By the way, being a rich man (or woman) is not an automatic ticket to hell (thank God!).  Eternal life is a gift given through faith in Jesus and his sacrificial offering of himself on our behalf.

I don’t know what you believe about Jesus, but what I hope is that if you are a person that is suffering in this life due to chronic pain, illness, and other agonies, that you realize that there is a God who comforts.  We have a God who restores.  Even in this life, the one who suffered more than all (Jesus) will walk with you.  But let’s not forget that none of us have to suffer forever.  Our God reverses our plight and gives us a glory that will one day make us forget our pain.  As the apostle Paul once wrote, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17).


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