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.


About David Heflin

I blog about topics related to the Christian faith and the struggle of chronic pain. I have ankylosing spondylitis and have dealt with chronic pain since 2011. I hope to provide support and community for those going along that same journey with me.
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