Over eight million Brits suffer from disabling chronic pain and rely on opiates to get through the day. Most aren’t addicted – they don’t abuse their medication – but are technology dependent. Their neurons have adapted to the only function normally in the presence of the given drug.
‘Opioid epidemic’ is a phrase the media throws around like confetti. They vilify the doctors for overprescribing; patients for abuse; and drugs dealers for exacerbating the problem. But what about the substantial segment of patients who aren’t addicted, don’t abuse their drugs, but do rely on them to survive? Why are we seemingly exempt from the opioid epidemic? Simply put, because there is no alternative. We must live our lives on prescription opiates stronger than heroin, hold down jobs, drive cars, have families and function because for us this is the only reality on offer from the government.
When you search for ‘opioid statistics’ on google, you’ll find a wealth of reports about the abuse of these drugs but nothing related to the “approved” use of these drugs. To understand the epidemic is to understand opiates. They are designed to decrease the perception of pain but don’t fix or remove it. Many are also known to produce a sense of well-being and warmth. If you are presenting with chronic pain and you have exceeded the likes of paracetamol and ibuprofen, you will typically begin on the low-level Hydrocodone derivatives. Depending on your conditions the doctor might throw in an anti-seizure medication like Gabapentin or Pregabalin for good measure. As you inevitably become tolerant to the opioids – for some people it takes weeks, others years – you are slowly stepped up the opiate ladder until you reach the dizzying heights of fentanyl (the drug that is famously said to have killed Michael Jackson) and morphine. But what happens when you reach the top?
Unfortunately, I learned the hard way. After 10 years using codeine, tramadol and morphine to manage my increasing pain, they just stopped working. I saw a consultant who deemed that I had opioid-induced hyperalgesia. Despite being on these drugs for many years (a number of them as a teenager) this was the first time I had ever heard that word. I learned that it was ‘opioid-induced hypersensitivity to painful and non-painful stimulus’. The opiates that I was using to hold down a job, sleep at night, maintain a ‘normal’ life, had turned against me. They were actually making me worse.
I was fortunate in the scheme of things. I avoided other serious side effects of long-term opiate use like gastroparesis, hormonal dysfunction, liver damage, immunosuppression and more. I spent two weeks detoxing from the medication: I vomited, had hot and cold sweats, tremors and, rather strangely, I sneezed a lot. But when I came out the other side, my pain was less than it had been in years. I still had significant pain, particularly when I had a dislocation, but I was desperate not to take any opiates again. After some research, I found CBD oil. I ordered some and after the first dose, the effects were almost instantaneous. Within an hour my base level of pain had all but dissipated. It was roughly 5 hours later before I needed to take another dose. I had the first hours of pain-free life that I had known for many years.
There are a handful of alternative therapies, like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and mindfulness, that can offer great relief to some people living in chronic pain. But it isn’t a ‘fix-all’ and should not be presented as such. I have personally found these very helpful but they do not actually ease the pain, they just allow me to cope with it better. I have found CBD oil more beneficial to my pain levels than my prescriptions ever were. It has have allowed me to stay off opiates almost entirely (the perfect record was broken by a dislocated hip).
Cannabis has been proven time and time again to be medicinally beneficial. From Multiple Sclerosis and cancer to HIV/Aids and chronic pain; there are thousands of reports and government-sponsored reviews that outline the legitimate uses and benefits of cannabis. Yet still, my only legal form of pain-relief is one that is also making me sicker.
Today, MP Paul Flynn will read the Medical Cannabis bill in parliament. I’ll be there along with the United Patients Alliance to stand up for a better life for people suffering from chronic pain. Join us and you will see that we are patients, not criminals.