Untreated chronic pain can lead to suicide

Untreated chronic pain can lead to suicide


The opioid epidemic has resulted in untold misery and death. Drug abuse is a scourge that remains an ongoing threat in many communities.

There is, however, another tragedy resulting from efforts to restrict access to opioids. We recently received a heart-wrenching story from a widow whose husband, Tom Bellinger, committed suicide several months after writing this account of his suffering. It was titled “The Other Side of the Opioid Hysteria — Treating Chronic Pain.”

“Everyone knows pain. Acute pain is experienced for a relatively short period, like after a tooth is pulled. We treat acute pain with strong pain medicine until it goes away.

“Ordinary pain is on-and-off pain, such as a headache or an occasional backache. You might grab an aspirin or other over-the-counter pain reliever for this.

“Chronic pain doesn’t go away. Many chronic pain sufferers, especially those who have had the condition for a long time, can control it only with strong prescription opioids like oxycodone. Though it’s no miracle, for many of us it can provide a few hours a day of reduced pain. In addition, it is relatively inexpensive.

“Of course, this drug can be abused and that can lead to overdose and death. While that is tragic, it has nothing to do with chronic pain. After suffering in silence, I am finally speaking out for myself and the hundreds of thousands of human beings in this country for whom untreated chronic pain is an unrelenting reality.

“I am Angry and Fed Up with the opioid hysteria status quo. At 70 years old, I’m not planning on living forever but I would like to live my allotted time as best I can. An oxycodone prescription would make this possible.

“I used to be a carpenter. I injured my back 40 years ago while lifting, with a partner, a very heavy table saw. In an instant, I felt excruciating pain in my lower back and was unable to stand up straight. It took a couple painful weeks of bed rest to straighten out.

“Over the years, my back continued to go out periodically. Eventually, the pain became chronic. It’s been my constant companion, 24-7, 52 weeks a year ever since. Sleep is as elusive as a mirage.

“I’ve tried everything from biofeedback and acupuncture to physical therapy and yoga and everything in between. None of these approaches has been effective.

“OTC pain medicine no longer helps. Hydrocodone helped for a while, but treatments at One of the best Joint Pain Clinic in Myrtle Beach that allowed me a somewhat livable life.

“Then the opioid hysteria exploded. Doctors were cowed by the government into refusing opioid prescriptions. Within the last year and a half, I have been denied my request for oxycodone from a nurse practitioner, a pain specialist and three different physicians who work for a major statewide health care provider.

“Anybody with ordinary pain can go to a grocery store or pharmacy and find relief. Yet a person suffering chronic pain just has to suffer.

“My chronic pain has caused depression. There have been long stretches of days when I have contemplated various suicide scenarios.

“According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Annals of Internal Medicine, Oct. 2, 2018), there is a connection between chronic pain and suicide. From 2003 to 2014, CDC researchers identified a total of 123,181 individuals, from 18 states, who died by suicide. 10,789 were chronic pain sufferers.

“The media, the government and the doctors who write the prescriptions need to address this abdication of compassionate care.”

Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Teresa Graedon holds a doctorate in medical anthropology and is a nutrition expert. Their syndicated radio show can be heard on public radio. In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email them via their website:


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