As a chronic pain patient and ambassador for the U.S. Pain Foundation, I see some glaring mistakes being repeated in the reporting of drug use, overdose and abuse. Although this reporter and this publication are guilty of echoing these sentiments, they are not alone. The mistakes are repeated on a national level too, creating a culture of misinformation and stigma.
There is no doubt that addiction and overdose are serious issues that deserve our attention, but the media are manipulating the minds of consumers in regard to the origin and nature of these issues, beginning with the subtle engineering of readers' general processing of the words. For example, while an article discussing diabetes medicine or blood pressure medicine will refer to them as just that, "medicine," pain medications are often referred to as "drugs," a negative connotation that all pain medications are the same as street drugs.
I daily read articles, published locally and nationally, which, like this one, pair pain medications and illegal drugs in broad, general statements, implying that the two are synonymous. In addition, the terms "use" versus "abuse" of pain medications are used interchangeably, reiterating in readers' minds that anyone who takes pain medications is an addict, and that simply taking pain medications is abusing them. These implications are untrue, unfair, misrepresent chronic pain patients, misinform the public and create unnecessary fear and sensationalism.
Like thousands of chronically ill, legitimate pain patients in Kentucky and the United States, I have been taking pain medication for many years, because without it, I cannot get out of bed and function. I have never once been "high" on them, and I've never considered heroin use.
The real correlation between the two is that pain patients are being forced to fend for themselves and find relief on the streets (with drugs like heroin) because the government has scared doctors out of doing their jobs when it comes to addressing pain. Because of the media's continued manipulation and sensationalism in regard to pain medication, society now shames pain patients out of seeking medications they may need. There is an essential truth being conveniently omitted from this and other articles, and that is that there is a direct correlation between the reported 700 percent increase of heroin use and the implementation of the "pill mill bill" and other laws being passed to restrict prescription pain medications. People are suffering, and instead of being treated with compassion, they are treated like criminals and worthless members of society. Legitimate pain patients deserve access to the medications that allow them to function, and doctors should not be afraid to help them. In addition, patients should not be made to feel they are doing something illicit by seeking help for medical conditions.
It is time that the media clearly differentiate between addicts who use pain medication illegally and/or abuse pain medication, and legitimate pain patients who use their medications as directed. Also, distinctions must be drawn between pain medication use and the use of street drugs. Most importantly, politicians in Kentucky and across the country must accept their role in the influx of heroin usage, and its direct correlation to the "pill mill bill" and others like it.