Does Britain have an opioid crisis? Dr Michael Mosely thinks so. In last week’s Horizon programme on BBC 2 he highlighted the dreadful statistics from across the pond in the USA as a warning to us here. He said that in the UK over half a million people are taking opiates like morphine for chronic pain. His claim is that there is evidence that for most of them (he says 90%) the pills are doing no good and can lead to addiction. He also cited the increased danger of accidental overdose – something that happened to me on more than one occasion. I actually stopped breathing once, shortly after putting on a 75mcg patch of Fentanyl and was saved by the presence of a nurse in my home who called the ambulance and got me into hospital. So, I know the stuff he is talking about after 22 years on varying doses of opiates, sometimes up to 5 times what the programme described as ‘dangerous levels’.
But, as my book Through the Storms; a manual for when life hurts covers in one chapter, there is another side to this so-called ‘opioid crisis’. How about ‘a chronic pain epidemic’? Because the problem is that with all this kind of publicity there is a danger of heaping shame and guilt onto sufferers of chronic pain without offering them viable alternatives. Often, it is not their fault that they have been prescribed these drugs by well-meaning doctors, but they are made to feel wretched for needing them. I certainly was at times.
There are research programmes into alternatives to opiate prescribing but they all too often fall into one category or another. Either they are looking into other equally strong but frighteningly powerful drugs, such a gabapentin or similar, or else they are based around well-being. This may all be well and good but, in my case, I don’t think a bit of gardening with friends would have dealt with crushing agony of chronic pancreatitis with recurring acute episodes!
I am so thankful for the temporary relief I received from a spinal neuro stimulator and also for the amazing surgical intervention I finally received at the Newcastle International Transplant unit in 2017. Today, after 22 years of appalling pain, I am largely pain-free and also free of any need for opiates.
There is a scandal surrounding the easy availability of powerful pain killers over the counter in the UK, but in my book I am concerned for the many affected by chronic pain without hope of relief except by means of these potentially dangerous opioids. Government funding should be moved into research into alternatives alongside any public information programmes such as this one.
If you are in pain, and can’t wait for the publication date for my book on Amazon (20th Feb) please email me at email@example.com and I will send you one by mail and can include an invoice for you to make a bank transfer or send a cheque.