"No pain, no gain" - was a motto I heard a lot of as a youth. Nowadays, I don't hear it very much anymore, because people are quick to avoid pain of any kind.
Addiction to prescription drugs, particularly opioid painkillers, kills around 17,000 Americans a year - a fourfold increase over the past decade. In 2009, 257m painkiller subscriptions were dispensed in the US and the CDC estimates that 12m Americans abuse prescription painkillers - of these, a growing number are turning to heroin (doubling in at the last decade to 669,000 people).
I knew several people who had terrible post-surgery harm come to them, because painkillers masked the pain of something that was going wrong inside them. In one person, the anti-inflammatory used ate away at her intestines, resulting in a colostomy bag.
I even lost a relative who had an early warning sign of an impending heart-attack and took a prescription painkiller instead, ultimately dying in their sleep, instead of seeking out help. The painkiller hid the symptoms, so they were unaware of what was wrong with them.
Prescriptions are given freely and people self-medicate freely, often sharing prescription drugs with other members of family - particularly, painkillers.
Not only has this resulted in many unnecessary deaths and injuries, but our pill-popping trend and prescription abuse (and overuse) is leading to the end of the "Age of Antibiotics", as well, since so many things are immune to our treatments.
Why is it that we've become so intolerant of pain? We treat it as a nuisance when, in fact, our body is trying to communicate something to us that we need to listen and respond to.
What is the responsibility of the medical care community? The pharmaceutical industry says 100m Americans suffer chronic pain, but doesn't explain this, so they can justify promoting painkillers ad nauseum. Should doctors tell their patients to buck-up and endure more pain?
According to an article in "The Atlantic", pain has become a very political issue. Sixty years ago, president Eisenhower's decision of how much private pain resources to devote to pain relief in military hospitals, was informed by considerations of grit, sacrifice, and virtue. He wouldn't allow "mere sympathy" to drive government expansion. As people grew older and chronic conditions developed and the workforce changed, courts took a different view of pain and rejected the notion that discomfort was a fact of life. Medicare and Medicaid were born and a "bureaucracy of relief" expanded. When the welfare state was attacked by Reagan in the '80s, deregulation allowed the pharmaceutical industry to meet and increase the demand for painkillers without oversight. It created new products and new markets.
A situation has developed of "overmedicated and undertreated".
Maybe it's time to rethink health care. Sending people home, unsupervised, with pills that can kill them, doesn't seem to be working particularly well, if so many people are dying.
A mother who lost her veteran son, recovering from a shoulder injury, and who died from an overdose of heroine and OxyContin abuse, had this to say about her situation:
"The pain is unbearable. And yet it is born to be endured."
What do you think...?
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