Blog of a Hoosier Opioid-Taker

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Emily Munson

If you are a child of the Reagan Administration, like myself, you might have participated in Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) classes. A police officer came to my fourth grade classroom and told us about the drugs we were supposed to refuse. I remember raising my hand, sharing my belief that morphine was actually good, having eased my pain after rods were surgically placed in my spine and the hospital physical therapist ruptured both of my Achilles tendons. Needless to say, the D.A.R.E. officer and I did not get along. Nor do I get along well with individuals promoting the battle of our so-called opioid “crisis.”

No one imagined I would survive 25 years after my back surgery; the rods were never designed to last that long. My osteoporotic bones have deteriorated such that several orthopedists have declined operating further. (For an orthopedist, that’s really saying something!) Multiple other doctors, from pulmonologists to physiatrists, agree the only medical option to treat my chronic pain is narcotics. When the pain began interfering with my ability to focus on my work, I began taking opioids.

“You are the outlier,” people frequently interject. “Opioids are fine for people with chronic pain or on a short-term basis to treat acute pain. It’s fine if you take opioids. But they are overprescribed and being abused by too many people. We have to do something about that.” Why, then, is getting increasingly difficult for me to get my prescriptions filled?

Just last weekend, Medicaid denied coverage of a 30-day supply of an opioid I’ve taken every day for more than a year. The rules have changed again, such that I must seek prior authorization for each and every narcotic prescription supplying more than seven days of pills. The pharmacy tech explained this change on a Friday night, after I had run out of pills (because the pharmacy will not fill a new prescription until the previous one is exhausted). The previous month, I had difficulty getting my medication because my pharmacy has a reduced its stock of the opioids I take. My doctor’s office had to call several pharmacies, attempting to find one in my network that stocked my medicine.

The situation is frustrating and scary. I’m again at the point where my pain is distracting me from my work, not because I’m experiencing physical pain but because I’m on the phone with my doctor’s office or preoccupied by the terrifying possibility that my insurance companies will stall the prior authorization process. National and state policies to crack down on those abusing the drugs have undoubtedly affected me in a negative manner.

Recently, my state legislators conducted a town hall meeting to discuss opioids. I shared my concern that, without access to necessary pain medication, people with cancer and other sources of severe, chronic pain may see suicide as their only option for relief. Exasperatingly, the legislators had no response, aside from attempting to assure me they understood my perspective. If that were true, they would not attempt to legislate the practice of medicine, a method of action that has actually been proven to be unsuccessful in limiting illicit access to opioids.

As you pursue your disability activism, dear readers, please remember those of us with chronic pain. As you fight for physical access to opioid treatment programs and expanded insurance access, maintain the fight for basic access to opioids for those of us who need them to continue living productive lives. Although chronic pain may be an invisible disability, but for an occasional cringe or shudder, it be made perceptible to lawmakers.

Published on February 27, 2019