Community Commentary Opinion

My story: Collateral damage from the ‘War on Opioids’

By Lorri Greene

At 3 a.m., a little girl cries for her mom: “My legs hurt.” Her mom assures her that she’s only feeling “growing pains” which she will outgrow. But the pain continues into adulthood.

I was that little girl.

As an adult, doctors diagnosed me with hip dysplasia. Full or partial dislocation of my hip joint, beginning at birth, caused this painful condition. But when I was born, doctors knew little about hip dysplasia and provided no help with pain management. I limped, but I could still do things that other kids did. I rode bikes and swam. I learned to play tennis in my 20s. I loved the game so much, I ignored the pain. 

Later, I achieved my lifelong dream. I become a psychologist. However, as a therapist, I sat all day with patients. Sitting for long periods increased my pain. In 2004, my primary care physician at Scripps Encinitas noticed my impaired gait. I remember her words: “It pains me to watch you walk.” I told her I had been in pain my entire life. She offered pain medication. I accepted. She prescribed Norco 10/325 and set the dosage at two pills a day. I took them, closely following the regimen outlined by my physician. For the first time in my life, I felt the pain ease. She continued to prescribe two pills a day for 15 years. Then on Sept. 25, 2019, she decided to take me off Norco. She provided no notice. She offered no procedure to safely discontinue the use of this painkiller. I asked for one more month’s supply, as well as guidance as to how I might safely to taper off.

She refused.

Instead, she explained that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Department of Justice were monitoring doctors for excessive prescribing of opioids. However, I was a legitimate pain patient. My magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans document my hip dysplasia. Over 15 years, I never abused the drug. I never asked her to increase the dosage. The American Medical Association has spoken out against ill-conceived laws and policies limiting or preventing patient access to opioid painkillers.

The so-called “War on Opioids” has caused collateral damage. In actual wars, collateral damage refers to the incidental, unintentional harm caused to persons inadvertently injured or killed by warfare. My pain and suffering is collateral damage from the “War on Opioids.”

According to The National Center for Health Statistics, an estimated 47,590 deaths in 2018 involved opioids. Yes, some people abuse these drugs. Some doctors over-prescribe. However, frightened physicans are jerking prescriptions away from patients suffering pain from documented medical conditions. How many legitimate pain patients are receiving this same treatment from their doctors? How many will die as a result? The scientific journal Addiction reported in 2017 that “complications of the clinical management of withdrawal are often underestimated and monitored inadequately.” The journal article noted that such mismanagement often leads to death, stroke, or a cardiac event.  I am just one of the many people who are collateral damage from the “War on Opioids.”

Lorri Greene is a retired psychologist living in Cardiff-by-the-Sea

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