CRPS, chronic pain and suicide

HelpCRPS, chronic pain and suicide


This is not an easy topic to write about, but its a really important one. Please be aware that this article contains discussion of suicide and self harm.

Ill start bluntly: CRPS is colloquially known as the suicide disease. To most sufferers, that probably doesnt come as much of a shock; CRPS is the worst pain condition known to man, according to the McGill Pain Index. Its more painful than childbirth, than amputation of a finger; CRPS is as bad as it gets. If youre new to the condition, that Index might help you understand that your suffering really is as bad as you think it is. No, youre not making it up, no, youre not exaggerating, and yes, you really do need and deserve all the help you can get.

CRPS normally begins after an injury, but occasionally it simply comes out of thin air. Whichever scenario applies, it is an arrival that derails your normal physical functioning; where there should be reducing or zero pain, the agony simply spirals further and further out of control. My own CRPS developed after a nasty but fairly simple injury that should have been largely healed after a few weeks in plaster.

CRPS affects your mind, too

There is no way that this terrible life-changing pain can occur without it affecting your mental state. Just none, and many CRPS patients will become clinically depressed. It used to be believed that, because so many sufferers were depressed, CRPS was more common in those already suffering from or pre-disposed to depression; that was until someone actually thought about the situation and realised that if you have hideous, life-destroying pain, well, then youre probably very likely to be deeply unhappy, arent you? Its now understood that of course most CRPS patients develop depression, simply because CRPS is such an awful condition to have.

And unfortunately, the sad reality of living with terrible pain that derails your life utterly is that some people cant live with it. I cant find any reliable statistics about how many people with CRPS commit suicide. Theres references everywhere, as if suicide and CRPS is some open secret that everyone knows about but no-one really investigates: that suicide is 900 times more common in sufferers, that 70% have attempted suicide, but nothing verifiable. What I will say is this: I think pretty much everyone I know with CRPS knows at least one person with the condition whos tried to hurt themselves. I think pretty much everyone I know with CRPS has thought about it at some stage. I know I have.

Ill take an important pause here: in this piece Ive written about what to do if youre feeling suicidal or having thoughts about harming yourself. If you feel that way, please go there now. Please. Youre not alone and you dont have to feel this way.

The death of Bryan Spece

Im writing this article now because I read about the very sad death of Bryan Spece on Pain News Network. Bryan was a chronic pain patient, being treated with opioid medication for ongoing back and carpal tunnel pain. He was under the care of Rodney Lutes, a physicians assistant, working from the Benefis Pain Management Centre in Montana in the US. Rodney had prescribed Bryan a regimen of 100 milligrams of oxycodone daily and, according to Lutes, he was doing very well on this prescription. Hed been on this medication for around three years. Friends, family, and Lutes state that thered never been any sign of depression during this period.

In March of this year, however, the picture changed. Benefis discharged Rodney Lutes for undisclosed reasons and his patients were transferred to other doctors within the clinic. For Bryan this was a death sentence.

Bryans oxycodone was drastically reduced by his new doctor. He was not doing well on this new prescription, according to a relative. He was having money issues with not being able to work as often because of the pain and with having his pain pills cut back. He was just very stressed, constantly, about it.

Tragically, Bryan was found dead at home from a gunshot wound on May 3rd. The police found several text messages on his phone. He was talking to his friends there in Lewistown, stating Come get my guns. Im in so much pain, I might do something stupid. Bryans loved ones have no doubt that this is what eventually happened.

After Lutes departure from Benefis, form letters were sent to all his patients stating that their new doctors would probably change their prescriptions and advising them to be aware that arguing or complaining about changes in your prescriptions will not alter your clinicians care plan. Another letter says verbal or written complaints to staff will not result in a change to your prescription. In other words, you have no choice, no voice, and no chance.

Tapering opioid medication

The Center for Disease Control discusses tapering of opioid medication with the headline Go Slow, advising a maximum taper of 10% of dose per week and no more than 10% per month for those whove been on opioids for a while, like Bryan. It advises careful monitoring of a patients mental state during a taper of medication, and emphasises the importance of offering psychological support.

Bryan Speces dose of oxycodone was reduced from 100 milligrams daily to just 30 milligrams. Thats a reduction of 70%. I cannot find ANY literature anywhere that condones or even suggests that such a drastic taper is appropriate. Its hard to view Bryans treatment by his new doctor as anything other than cruel and unusual. His family blame the Benefis clinic 100% for Bryans death.

The American war on painkillers

I have written before about Americas war on opioids and the ever more stringent guidelines that are being presented by various government bodies and politicians, seemingly in some competition to be seen as the hardest on drugs. I also wrote about my fear that wed count the impact of this policy in dead pain sufferers. The terrible, life-ending problem with this initiative is that it abandons the genuine chronic pain patient, the person, exactly like me, who is absolutely reliant on strong painkillers to live their life. These people are patients, not addicts; how dare anyone who signs the Hippocratic oath treat them with such callous and cruel indifference? Complaining about your new prescriptions wont change anything. Arguing will have no effect either. How far do we have to go to be heard? Will you listen to me if I put a gun to my head?

As I said previously, there is no doubt that chronic pain goes hand in hand with depression. Life-altering pain that takes everything you love from you will undoubtedly render the most optimistic person unhappy. During the early years of my CRPS, there were times when I was significantly depressed and I seriously wondered whether I could continue to live this way.

Coping strategies for chronic pain

The reality, though, is that by gaining the right support for me, those feelings passed. I love my life now, despite the CRPS, despite the constant pain that invades every single thought, every single second I have. A significant part of that support was psychological, enabling me to think differently about my new situation. Some of it was surgical, with my spinal cord stimulator making a big difference to my pain levels and functioning. Another important element was pain management techniques, including the month I spent learning mindfulness at St Thomas Hospital in London.

A big, important, undeniable, essential part, however, is my daily opioid pain medication. Without it, I could not cope. Without it, I dont know if Id be here today. Thats not over-dramatising, its simply the truth. If my pills were taken away tomorrow, like Bryans were, I dont know if I would be able to see a way forward through my haze of pain either.

It makes me mad as hell to know that we failed Bryan so badly that he couldnt see a way to continue living. And it is our failure; we, as a society, have allowed these guidelines to be put in place and weve allowed genuine patients to be treated this way. Imagine the outcry if we allowed chemotherapy to be stopped for cancer patients. So how can we be allowing this to happen?


It may feel like were powerless, but actually were not, not completely. If youre in the USA, then you can get involved with a group like Patients Not Addicts and theyll tell you how to lobby your politicians to protect these essential drugs for chronic pain patients. In the UK, were not yet experiencing the drive to curb opioid medications like in the US but I fear its coming. Ill continue to monitor the situation and will write about any developments.

I will end with a request: If you believe that pain patients are not addicts, if youre a chronic pain sufferer yourself, if you love someone with chronic pain, if youre simply someone who understands that no medication is necessarily bad as long as its used appropriately, then please speak up. Make your voice heard. It is needed more than ever right now. If we dont, then I fear Bryan will simply be one of the very first casualties of this callous policy. Dont let his death be in vain.


3 Responses

  1. I myself am a chronic back pain sufferer. My Dr. keep telling me Because of my young age I will get nothing more than 10mg Percocet. Over & over again I have told my dr this isnt enough. Ive started to experience total loss of leg movement at days feeling 100% paralyzed. I have times I have lost 100% consciousness due to my pain yet over & over again I raise my concerns about my pain not being under control. All my words fall upon deaf ears. I told the doc I understand what I have to say needs to be looked at with some suspicions. Although I have never abused my medication. I have no history at all with drugs or alcohol, in my eyes my dr sees me as a drug addict (at least) thats the way it feels. I have paperwork & Mri’s to back up my claim to just how much pain im in & NOTHING more can be done for me? I’m at risk of losing everything If I dont get this pain under control. I feel voiceless & at most times it feels like nobody but my family or friends care how much pain & suffering im in. I dont want to attempt suicide again. I want to live a normal everday good life & with as much pain as I feel non stop 24-7 365 a good life unless something more is done is not possible. I fear in the end I will have to commit suicide to get control over my pain. I’m not living life right now I am merely existing. I want my voice to be herd & I want my govenment to stop treating me & everyone else wo suffers chronic pain conditions like common drug abusing Junkies. WE ARE NOT!! we have the right to a pain FREE life!!!!!

  2. Every word you have written is the truth.I have often said,what is worse,a physical dependency on a medication that keeps one functioning or living constantly in misery from pain conditions.Which is worse?We are not addicts.We do not abuse nor misuse our medicine,yet in the hysteria concerning addiction and overdose,they throw the baby out with the bath water,so to speak.
    In this haste,this obsession with those who abuse such medicine,they can’t seem to differenciate a medical dependency from those who abuse.Millions are successfully treated with this medicine for years,without misusing or abusing.The vast majority who are under medical supervision are not the problem.The Opiod medicine is not the problem.The problem is the 10% or so with addictive personalities.Yet they declare a foolish war on the medicine itself.

    They hand out anti depressants like candy.Millions in America are in need of such.Wheres the war against anti depressants,which also create a dependency? They treat sleeping disorders with addictive medicines,and millions depend on such.Wheres he war against ambien,and other nasty drugs that are abused?They treat anxiety conditions with meds that are addictive and abused by that same 10% who cannot responsibly use the meds.Wheres the war against those medicines? Millions drink alcohol,yet again,a small percentage with addictive personalities abuse alcohol.Wheres the hysteria concerning alcohol?People with addictive personalities need treatment,not scorn.Again,it’s not the substance,it’s the person.

    Opiods have been used in one form or another for centuries.The percentage that will go on to the stronger forms,like heroin,is very small.The pain meds do not lead to heroin addictions,it’s the person with addictive disorders.Why this war against pain patients?Why this hysteria about a substance that relieves pain and the Depression&anxiety that often results?We are NOT addicts,we are patients.The meds taken responsibly can help,and do help,give life back to millions who suffer mostly in silence with constant pain,disability,with horrible depression and anxiety.Most of us are tired of needing to depend on a substance,and would rather not have to deal with doctors,prescriptions& now the constant anxiety that the one med that keeps us functional may at any time be taken from us,because of a hysteria and war against a substance.What will work to help us,when no other treatment nor med works?Why do they condemn millions to a life of laying on our bed in pain misery and depression,because they foolishly declare war on a substance that has been used responsibly and safely by millions for decades?

    I do understand and do not make light of,nor belittle,those who have watched someone they love become consumed with an addiction,and in many cases die because of that addiction.My heart aches to see this.But again,don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.Dont condemn legitimate patients with terrible conditions to a life of suffering in silence.WE are PATIENTS,not addicts.We speak truthfully when we tell them,this one med only,relieves the suffering and helps us to at least have some functionality in our lives of misery.This medicine is both a blessing and a curse.Its not the substance that creates problems in a small percent of the population,it’s the person.Treat the person and stop warring against a substance.

  3. I am sorry for your loss!!!,,There was a man named Dick Trickle,, that actually got me pisst off to start contacting anyone who would/could stop this genocide onto us,,He took a gun to his head from untreated forced physical pain in his chest,,and we said the same thing,,,,”OUR DEAD NEED TO HONORED,, not censored or labelled suicides,,,,,,for every soul who has had to choose death to stop their physical pain lies w/in each of us,,we have all been there or are going there,and ,,,we all know,,, it is from our medicines being denied access to,,thus FORCED,, to live life in forced physical pain every second of the day,,NO NORMAL HUMAN BEING,, would want to live a life,or could live life in forced physical pain,,,God rest his soul ,,,and I agree,,lets not let Byran death ,’due untreated physical pain,” be in vain,,,,,,,m

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