OPIOPHOBIA: The Hidden Epidemic

It is easy to think that epidemics are a result of a virus, bacteria, poor health choices or an unlucky random dip, into your parent's gene pool. However there are other epidemics, which are man made and therefore are also preventable. Today I want to tell you about an epidemic that is affecting literally millions of people, all over the world and which needs open and honest public discussion.

Just stop and think, that while most of us have not any direct contact or personal knowledge of a person who has caught Covid 19, I doubt there is a person alive on earth that is not closely related to someone who suffers chronic, crippling and debilitating pain. Sometimes it is a result of an accident or a painful operation, that requires rehab and time to dissipate; but ultimately one day it will get better. Then there are the forgotten people, who have painful chronic disabling pain, as a result of a genetic weakness or condition that causes them often excruciating or constant pain.

Well the epidemic I want to discuss today, is the epidemic of 'Opiophobia' or the fear of prescribing opioid drugs, to people who desperately need them to have a quality of life that any person would expect to have. By that I mean the right to be able to sit, walk, and even sleep without experiencing debilitating pain. The basic human right, to be able to go to work and earn a living, to be able to go out to socialise and make friendships and have relationships; with the dream of one day having a home, partner and children. It would be nice to believe that this could be done, while simultaneously achieving some personal and career goals; along the road of a long and fruitful life.

However these basic human rights are denied to thousands of people due to 'Opiophobia' in both developed and undeveloped countries, worldwide. But Opioids are bad I hear you say, they are highly addictive and so should be avoided at all costs shouldn't they? Well yes, they are addictive, because which normal person does not want to be out of pain? But wait a minute, aren't cigarettes known to be not only more addictive than heroin, but also carcinogenic; and yet they are legal and sold without a script?

However, opioids are one of the most effective painkillers that we know of today! They are also cheap and easy to make, and so perfect to be used in developing nations, for the millions of poor people currently living in terrible pain; and despite the opiophobia that many doctors have about prescribing it, they are safe and also seem to have no physical side effects. This is bizarre when you see the often huge list of possible side effects on any everyday commonly consumed (including over he counter), medication. There is a somewhat irrational fear that at some point a person will require so much opioid medication (like Endone or Oxycontin), because the body has developed a sort of resistance to it; and that they will have to cycle onto another type of painkiller. But, is that really a reason to deny millions of people effective, cheap, pain relief until that happens maybe 10 years or more later? A Ketamine Infusion done over a few days in hospital, will unblock the receptors in the brain, so withdrawals from the medication can happen quickly and painlessly; and a new but different type of opioid medication is swapped over at a lower starting dose.

These people are not drug addicts, they are not bad, immoral hell raisers getting high for kicks; they are ordinary people, your partner, your parent or in my case my child, just wanting to face this world without pain and to achieve their potential. Unfortunately the plethora of bad media and government intervention into the use of this medicine, has been so harsh and tightly controlled by the authorities, that as a result most Doctors feel overly constrained and are afraid to use their medical training and years of experience, to prescribe people with this much needed pain medication out of fear of a bureaucrat jepodising their medical license. Many nurses if asked, agree that the constraints around the use of this medication is cruel and unnecessary and leaves many chronic pain patients contemplating suicide, as living in constant pain is not the way they want to live the rest of their lives.

I understand that after the time, expense and rigors of a medical degree that a Dr would be afraid to have their registration affected, or god forbid revoked. You would however, not believe the number of times my daughter, who has honestly never done anything wrong in the use of this medicine, has been made to feel like a bad person. She has been treated by Doctors with mistrust, disrespect, like some sort of criminal or drug addict; and then having to virtually bend over backwards just for the right to use the only medicine that actually gives her some pain relief. Indeed cruel and unusual punishment for someone born with a severe scoliosis that she had literally zero control over. Yes, that is her x-ray above and yes it begs belief that with such an obvious painful condition ( with bone pain, muscle pain and nerve pain) that she has to go through this over and over again! When I see how much pain people with one bulging disc or a single fractured vertebrae are in, I cannot even contemplate the amount of pain she has to endure every minute of every day!

From an economic and business point of view, to have workers trying to be productive while in pain, is like expecting a fish to be able to swim in air. Likewise the number of people who cannot work due to their constant pain and hence are on some sort of pension to be able to survive while unable to work, is also enormous. These humanitarian, moral and economic issues are long overdue a Royal Commission to see just how many innocent people are being denied effective pain relief and who is gaining from such a denial.

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