Not long ago, I found myself self-medicating. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was abusing alcohol and over the counter pain medication as a desperate means to relieve the agonizing stabbing pains in my face, the cause of which was evading my doctor over a period of weeks.
I write this with gratitude at the top of mind because I had the support of a loving spouse, access to a caring family doctor, access to specialists, and within six weeks, the cause of that devastating pain was diagnosed and treated. It only took those few weeks for me to realize the depths some of us may go to in order to catch relief from that kind of constant, sleep depriving, life altering pain. Since then, I have wondered what would’ve happened to me, if those support systems weren’t in place, as is the reality for so many others.
COVID-19 has been all consuming and dominates all the medical and health news coverage. What this small window of suffering made clear, is that there are countless people who are suffering from chronic pain and life altering ailments that are not receiving the attention and care they so desperately need.
Before the pandemic, political leaders were finally starting to address the opioid overdose crisis, but it now rarely garners a headline. The epidemic has been worsening during the COVID-19 pandemic with many communities across Canada and the United States reporting record numbers of opioid related deaths, emergency calls and hospitalizations. North Americans are the largest per capita consumers of opioids in the world respectively. Before we stigmatize who these victims are, remember it could easily be you or I.
How Did We Get Here?
An opioid epidemic didn’t exist until there was a huge surplus of opioids, which started with pharmaceutical drugs. Opioid medications, including oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine are commonly prescribed to treat pain and gained popularity among doctors in the 1990’s for treating patients who had undergone surgery or cancer treatment, but in the last fifteen years, physicians increasingly prescribed them for chronic conditions, such as back or joint pain, despite concerns about their safety.
With the availability of these opioids shrinking, the illicit manufacturing of fentanyl has skyrocketed. As little as 2 mg of fentanyl can represent a fatal dose.
When pain lasts longer than six months, its considered chronic pain. About 25% of people will go on to have symptoms that extend beyond physical pain, like depression and anxiety, called chronic pain syndrome (CPS).
The ever increasing opioid epidemic, the lack of treatment options for chronic pain and the lack of access to quality care in mental health were all issues that needed to be top of mind before the pandemic. They have all been exacerbated by COVID-19 and we can no longer continue to allow our citizens to languish in pain and suffering.
What Can We Do
More than ever, look out for others and advocate for those who need it. Make calls and do the research for those who can’t. Champion for your friends and loved ones, and know that anyone of us, could easily have our lives turned upside down.
Finally, show concern, open a dialogue, listen and don’t stigmatize.
The Chronic Pain Association of Canada
The American Chronic Pain Association
Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction
American Psychological Association
CAMH: The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health