By Jessica Minerd-Massey
Patients with chronic pain generally aren't born with it. The pain can begin in an instant and continue indefinitely with no regard for the ebbs and flows of life. After suffering from a work injury and a series of misdiagnoses, I experience permanent pain in my back and neck. I’ve been to multiple doctors and tried several different treatments, including any and all alternative therapies available and ending in multiple failed surgeries.
The only real relief from my constant pain is through the use of prescription opioid medications. And I am not alone. The chronic pain community in New York is vast, and many of us rely on prescription opioids to treat our pain.
Unfortunately, our lawmakers looked past patients like myself earlier this year when they voted to pass the Opioid Stewardship Act and increase fees on legal opioid distribution.
Despite our debilitating pain and reliance on legitimate opioid medications, chronic pain patients are people who just want to go back to our normal life, the way things were before our injury or illness left us with constant pain. However, we’ve found ourselves in the crossfire of the opioid crisis and are now being stigmatized and treated like criminals.
We’re at risk of medication shortages and increased medication costs – two realities many of us cannot bear.
I’m not arguing that an illegal opioid epidemic isn’t wreaking havoc on communities across New York and the country, but please be aware that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s own data, most of those overdoses are due to illegal fentanyl coming from China, not legal prescriptions.
I understand that prescription opioids are potentially addictive. But chronic pain patients aren't the problem. Again, according to the government's own statistics, the chance a chronic pain patient will become addicted is actually less than 1 percent. Not the “4 out of 5” number so often related in the media. We work with licensed professionals to ensure the right doses so there is much less chance of diversion to the street.
We are not addicts, we are dependent. Addiction is defined by aberrant behavior, like “doctor shopping” or consistently running out of prescriptions early. Chronic pain patients now have many safeguards in place to prevent this from happening, to ensure that anyone exhibiting this type of behavior is caught very quickly. So why are chronic pain patients suffering?
As the cost of opioid prescriptions increases, more and more patients will be unable to afford their medications. I am currently on workers' compensation and Social Security benefits as a result of my many injuries. Added costs are proving devastating to both my health and financial situation. I've been forced to reduce my medications to the point I am now homebound and in constant misery. And this is a reality for many other chronic pain survivors.
I truly feel that our state legislators and Gov. Andrew Cuomo neglected to think through the consequences of this legislation. And New York’s pain community deserves a more effective response. Hopefully, our lawmakers will head back to the drawing board, take into consideration the ideas put forth by our chronic pain advocates and come up with a real plan that will deliver real results.
Jessica Minerd-Massey is a chronic pain patient from Yorkshire, Cattaraugus County.