The Big Problem With Overdose We Are Forgetting


Everyone is freaking out about opiate overdose- what about the major problem no one is talking about?

Prescription overdose has been in the spotlight lately, which makes sense. Drug overdoses have now surpassed automobile overdoses as the leading cause of accidental death. What doesn’t make sense is that because of this spotlight chronic pain patients are running into a harder time getting the help they need. Instead of addressing drug abuse and overdoses in a productive manner people are punishing chronic pain patients who need help by making it harder to get their medication.

This study reveals that chronic pain patients aren’t the ones who are having problems with abuse; Only 2% of chronic pain patients end up having problems with abuse. However, if people make conclusions based on the media, all chronic pain patients are addicts destined to accidentally overdose.

Overdose is heavily talked about, but there is one extremely important aspect to this that everyone is missing- suicide. Dealing with pain every second of every day can, unsurprisingly, be incredibly depressing. In fact, 19-28% of people with chronic pain are suicidal on some level, whether through suicide ideation or with actual plans to carry out their death. And the most common tool for suicide in these cases? You may have guessed it- medication overdose.

We need to change how we perceive health and chronic pain for this problem to go away. Two major risk factors in chronic pain patients who commit suicide are patients feeling like a burden and not feeling like they belong. This comes as no surprise to me. Our society absolutely treats people who are disabled like burdens and outsiders.

We praise the people who are friends with/ dating/ supporting chronic pain patients because we see chronic pain patients as burdens instead of people.

We abuse chronic illness patients at a rate that is 1.5 times the usual or 4 times as much if the chronic illness is mental, only to act like they are lucky to have anyone in their lives.

We do the bare minimum to make things accessible (only because it is the law) and act like we are doing disabled a favor.

We treat people with chronic pain first as criminal drug-seekers and consider their pain and quality of life second.

We talk about how terrible opiates are and how they are never justified. There is no understanding that for many of us the choice is between this unfortunate drug and killing ourselves because the pain is too much to live with every day.

We often go out of our way to avoid the disabled. We look away or make an excuse.

Overdose is a huge issue and it should be taken seriously. However, going after people who are already hurting is only going to worsen this issue and cause an increase of overdoses. Researchers already don’t feel like they can properly tell which opiate overdoses are accidental or suicide. Statistics suggest that we should at least consider that suicide is a big issue in the discussion on overdose.

Part of the solution is to change the way we think about and treat chronic pain patients. 

Another part of the solution is to change the way we think about and treat chronic pain patients. The other is to make naloxone, a medicine that can save people from  an overdose, easily available to people who do overdose accidentally.

Decriminalising these drugs would also help drug abusers get the help they need without fear of being charged with a crime. 

When we talk about overdoses we often leave out discussions of the people who are using these drugs the most. We also need to make the increase in suicide, abuse, depression, anxiety, and PTSD in chronic pain patients part of the conversation on increased overdose. 


One thought on “The Big Problem With Overdose We Are Forgetting

  1. Great post! There is an additional bit of information I just found out: when there is ANY death, such as in a car accident, and the person is found to have opiates in his/her system, this is also counted as an “opiate-related death”. That really skews the statistics.

    The other thing a lot of people don’t know is the “I started on pain pills then went to heroin” study the DEA is always trotting out is based on interviews with heroin addicts. Not recovering ones, but current addicts. This is important because, as a former alcohol and drug therapist, I can state that addicts will never say “I started on heroin because I was at a party and I thought it would be fun to try”, “I was bored and my friend had some so I tried it”, or even “one of my relatives was telling me how fun heroin is” – nope, they nearly always tell some convoluted tale about how they broke their foot, got Percocet from the doctor for pain, and that got them so hooked they started buying heroin on the street because it’s cheaper. The only thing true about that tale is that heroin is, indeed, cheaper than pills.

    Even addicts want to save face, like most humans, and I understand why they tell such stories, but it doesn’t make for an accurate study. Yes there are people who became addicted that way but it’s a very small number and I have actually never met any client/patient who truly started that way. To me, it makes no difference how someone became addicted, in terms of their treatment plan, but when stories are used as “fact” by the DEA it makes me mad.

    I am also a pain patient. I guess I don’t mind the monthly pill counts and urine tests but what I do mind is pain patients being treated as potential criminals by pharmacists and the public at large. That attitude is responsible for pain clinics closing and leaving pain patients to deal with the inevitable withdrawal and the return to a painful existence which only these types of drugs can help.

    Thanks for writing this.


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