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Here & Now has reported extensively on the opioid crisis, the increasing numbers of people becoming addicted to prescription pain pills and heroin, and the spike in overdoses. Often drowned out in the conversations about the current epidemic, though, are the experiences and voices of chronic pain patients, many of whom say opioids are the only drugs that help them live with near-constant pain.
Here & Now's Robin Young talks with one of those chronic pain patients, Christie Annos of Portland, Oregon, who wrote to us last month after our story on a study that found 91 percent of people who overdose on opioids are able to get another prescription. Annos says her opioid prescription has been reduced to the point that her pain is not being managed.
Is there another means of treatment that could help you?
“When I was first having this problem, I kept getting kidney stones throughout the year in 2000, and they did a 24 hour urine collect and analyzed the stones and they were comprised of uric acids. Uric acid stones, you can’t change your diet, you can’t take medication, they just are. Had it been another kind of kidney stones, I might have had other options. But even if I don’t have kidney stones, which they think I don’t, the pain is still there. It’s there and there’s nothing I could do about it.”
How do you deal with the pain?
“I cry, I try to distract myself. You know, before this started I had a really big toolbox of coping strategies; things that I could do and now, I can lay in bed on a heating pad. My back is burned from being on the heating pad all the time. I really - I try to watch TV or read to distract myself but it’s just always there. It’s the topmost thing on my mind at all times.”
How is a doctor to know the difference between someone who is addicted and someone with chronic pain that needs to be treated?
“I think the big difference is that I adhere to my opioid contract to the letter. I never went in for early refills, I never asked for a dose increase, I never went to the ER, I never got prescriptions from multiple doctors; I followed all the rules. Addicts build up a tolerance, and a lot of chronic pain patients do too, but my dose was my dose and it stayed the same for 12 years.”
What should be done to stop this addiction and overdose problem?
“I think it’s just, like I said, a matter of doctor education. They have to know the warning signs and what to look for. Honestly, I hate to say this out loud, but the thought has crossed my mind. I’m in so much pain, I know I could go downtown and find someone to sell me heroin in 10 minutes. Of course it’s crossed my mind because I’m in untreated pain all the time and I’m so desperate for some relief that, I mean I don’t think I would ever do it, but I think about it.”
Well, we hope it doesn’t come to buying heroin
“I really doubt it. It’s never been in my wheelhouse of experience but, you know, I think about suicide too, which I really 99.9 percent think I’ll never do but every day I think ‘God dang I wish I wasn’t alive.’ So it’s really a desperate situation that I have no control over and I see no way out of.”
This segment aired on February 15, 2016.