“Just say no.”
Many of us remember Nancy Reagan’s campaign in the 1980s to curb rampant recreational drug use. And whether it was actually effective is up for debate.
But it worked for me. I was a kid myself during “Just Say No,” and I have since lived my entire life not only proud that I’ve never been addicted to illicit drugs — I’ve never even tried them.
Even my closest friends don’t believe that, thinking I had to have at least puffed on a marijuana joint once or twice. But no, I’ve never even done that. The only thing I could ever be guilty of in that regards is puffing on a cigar in Tampa’s Ybor City — but you can’t go to that historical Floridian district without trying the hand-rolled stogie made there.
I don’t even like medication. I am recovering from my second bout of bronchitis already this year, mostly because I won’t go and get an antibiotic. I won’t even take a Tylenol until my headache is so unbearable, I can’t get work done.
The world of recreational drugs, however, has changed a lot since the first lady’s campaign. The focus now isn’t on marijuana or cocaine as much as it is opioids — you know, like heroin.
But that also includes drugs necessary for the treatment of pain, like fentanyl and morphine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some 500,000 people died between 2000 and 2015 from drug overdoses — and 91 die from an opioid overdose every single day.
You know it’s bad when you see advertisements for medication you’re encouraged to carry around with you to use just in case you come across someone suffering from an opioid overdose.
Opioid abuse has become a focus of the Trump administration, and rightfully so. But the more we stigmatize opioids, the more difficult it becomes to access it by those who need it the most.
And yes, that is a bit selfish on my part. Last month, you may recall I shared a very personal battle I have with a condition known as trigeminal neuralgia. It’s a rare condition that affects a large nerve in my face that, in an attack, causes some of the most intense pain you could ever feel. It’s like someone is stabbing me in the side of my face with a hot knife over and over again.
There’s not much that can be done for trigeminal neuralgia, except mostly futile efforts to prevent attacks using medication typically reserved for epilepsy. When an attack does happen, at least for me, there’s one drug that seems to be the only thing outside of Vicodin that works — high doses of morphine.
I’m in remission right now, and I will likely be in remission for a few years. But at some point, the trigeminal neuralgia is going to return, and with a vengeance.
The only way I can get through an attack, which could last hours otherwise, is getting to a doctor and having her flood my system with morphine.
Sadly, attacks come out of nowhere, and sometimes with absolutely no warning. That means more often than not, the help I would seek is from the emergency room, not my regular doctor’s office. And emergency rooms — especially as the opioid epidemic grows — have become more and more suspicious of anyone seeking anything stronger than an aspirin.
The suspicion is good. Getting a handle on the opioid crisis starts with our medical community. We just have to ensure it doesn’t go too far, because there’s suspicion, and then there’s needless suffering.
Since my diagnosis, I have met so many different people with not only trigeminal neuralgia, but other very painful conditions. And if you’ve never had to suffer through severe chronic pain, it’s difficult to understand what we’re going through. Except that you desperately want relief, and you hope those men and women who operate under the Hippocratic oath with deliver it to you.
I wish I knew how doctors can find the balance of preventing drug abuse while still helping those who really need those drugs. That’s not my area. But the longer we don’t address it in our hospitals and emergency rooms, the more needless suffering is created. Especially when many of those suffering are people like me — people who aren’t drug users, who aren’t looking to get high, who simply want to live a normal life.
It will require time and effort, but it must also include compassion. Because we never should battle a crisis by ignoring the collateral damage.
The author is editor of The Riverdale Press.