There has been some buzz over what to me was a benign ad during the Super Bowl for a medication that treats opioid-induced constipation.
As any of you who have been a caregiver probably know, constipation is one of the most common side effects of long-term opioid use. My mother suffered from severe constipation during her last year. It drastically reduced her quality of life.
To me, this issue is not a joke.
To millions of Americans who live with chronic pain, it is not funny.
After the ad aired during the Super Bowl, Bill Maher cracked the following joke on Twitter.
Maher took flak for his tweet from those who suffer from chronic pain. Maher, who was fined recently for allegedly smoking a joint on television, strongly supports the legalization of marijuana, so he’s not anti-drug by any means, he just prefers weed to pills. Good for him, but for those with chronic pain who work real jobs and face drug tests, marijuana can be risky, even in states where it is legal.
The White House Chief of Staff also sounded off on the commercial.
The White House Press Secretary agreed.
These allegations, while perhaps well-meaning, are woefully misguided.
It’s true that the amount of people abusing opioids has increased dramatically since the 1990s. Pain management clinics popped up everywhere, serving as pill mills, with the doc essentially being a legal drug dealer. The pharmaceutical companies underplayed the dependency risks of their highly profitable products.
The government, under pressure to do something, placed stiff restrictions on opioids. But if you’ve ever known an addict, you know the war on any kind of drug is likely to fail. Addicts only kick the habit when they are ready to do so, and will readily switch to another drug to maintain a high. Many pain pill addicts are switching over to heroin, which is now cheaper and more readily available in many parts of the country.
The only people who are being truly affected by the government crackdown on opioids are those who suffer with chronic pain and who require these medications to function like a normal human being.
My mother relied on pain medications over the last few years of her life. After her cancer surgery, Mom was placed on a low dose of hydrocodone and her doctor kept her on it without question until the new Medicare regulations started to be phased in near the end of 2014. Suddenly, my mother was required to come in to the doctor’s office much more frequently to get her prescription refilled. It was difficult for her to get to the doctor’s office due to transportation issues and because she was in so much pain. It was devastating to know my mom was suffering and there was nothing I could do about it.
Terminal patients suffering excruciating pain should not be denied or delayed pain relief. Those with chronic pain should not face draconian laws to get the medications which help them hold down jobs and raise families. Yes, pharmaceutical companies need to be closely regulated and rehab needs to be readily available for those seeking help, but pain is no laughing matter and neither are the side effects of pain-relieving medications.