Off Topic: The Other Side of the Opioid Conflict

I’ve spent the past week or so with my mother, who has, among other ailments, degenerative osteo arthritis and ulcerative colitis, a hyper-active immune system disease similar to the Crohns that has plagued me over the years. I’ve watched her struggle slowly and painfully to her feet, stand for a few seconds with the support of her walker to be sure she’s steady, then carefully move from one room to another. She’s having a hard time getting her 86-year-old body moving and she’s constantly in pain. The other day, her left knee threatened to go backward with her and knocked her off balance. She caught herself, but it scared the tar out of me.

The cartilage is gone from both of her knees and her left shoulder, and use of her left arm is restricted. Getting into and out of the car is an exercise of strength and determination and a constant battle against the pain. It takes her a week to recuperate from one day’s worth of outings.

Every three months, she gets steroid shots in both knees, or in one knee and the shoulder. She’s not allowed to have them more often than that, but for the first month and a half, she’s better. The pain isn’t as bad, and she can move about with a little more freedom.

That leaves a month and a half where she can’t do much without excruciating pain—and here’s where the ulcerative colitis problem comes in. Though the condition is under control, it, like Crohn’s, is incurable and remission lasts only as long as the medication continues working. I don’t know about all hyper-active immune system diseases, but UC and Crohn’s patients are restricted to only one type of over-the-counter pain reliever: Acetaminophen. Tylenol, which works great, for lightweight pain. Hers isn’t lightweight.

Short of some intravenous pain med, the only kind of prescription relief she can get is Tramadol—an opioid. Not everyone who takes opioids become addicted to them. I didn’t. Mom didn’t. But because people do, getting them has become harder than ever.

When the crack-down began, my mother’s doctor took her off of them. The only affect on Mom was the fact she had nothing but Tylenol to relieve her pain, but she can’t use them often because the dangers associated with it are increased because of her age. She has used topical Lidocaine patches and creams, but she’s not supposed to use them to the extent she needs them. The instructions on the box of Lidocaine patches say that she can use only one. She has three places where she needs relief—and when things are bad enough, her back goes out, so that makes four. Whenever one part of the body gets funky, everything else in the body tries to compensate, which gives overall pain. How can she get relief?

One thing that happens when I (or anyone else, for that matter) post something like this, is that all sorts of people comment about natural oils and teas and diets that work for simple pains and ailments. And some of them are great. For instance, we discovered that wintergreen oil does indeed work with a type of arthritis Mom has in her hands, and that a teaspoon of mustard or vinegar stops leg and foot cramps. But nothing like this works on the types of pain-causing problems Mom has.

I don’t know what the answer is, and it’s killing me that I can’t help ease her pain. When I’m here, I do everything I can for her to keep her from having to move very much, but I don’t live in the same town she does and I can’t be here all the time.

Pharmacists and chemists are under attack these days. The general population seems to hate them for one reason or another. But I’m praying that they can come up with an answer for those of us who need a regular form of pain relief. It’s hard to watch someone you love live with so much agony.

About Linda W. Yezak

Author/Freelance Editor/Speaker (writing and editing topics).
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24 Responses to Off Topic: The Other Side of the Opioid Conflict

  1. Pegg Thomas says:

    Oh, man. You’re breaking my heart! Hopefully, her doctor will step and realize that she needs relief. Give her a *gentle* hug from me.


    • Oh–I forgot to include that. The doctor gave her 7 Tramadol tablets with instructions to cut them in half and take one of the halves per day. So, after the steroid shots wear off, Mom has 14 1/2-pills to help her through the remaining month and a half until she can get her shots again.

      Yeah, it breaks my heart too.


  2. Anthea says:

    Praying with you my friend. It’s agony to see our loved ones in pain and to be unable to act.


  3. gwynnrogers says:

    I too have a form of degenerative arthritis, but I have been taking Glucosamine with MSM for years and Calcium/magnesium. I have been taking a high dosage of the Glucosamine for many, many years and I find that if I cut back on it that my pain increases. So I manage my pain with Tylenol at night and I rub Arnicare Gel on the other areas at night. This is what helps me. I am terribly sorry for your pain and for your mom’s. Sadly, I do wish that doctors learned about more natural forms of relief rather than simply prescribing opioids. Have you explored Chinese medicine? My heart truly goes out to you.


  4. Linda, I can sympathize with you, since I am both a retired physician and the husband of a woman who has chronic pain but other problems which take away the alternative of NSAIDs–and she doesn’t want opioid pain relievers. (We’ve tried other means, but let’s don’t get into that). I pray that modern pharmaceutical research will come up with a non-opioid analgesic that works.


  5. annetteohare says:

    Oh, Linda this is such a huge pet peeve of mine. I suffer with you and your mom. This whole opioid crackdown reminds of an elementary school teacher who punishes the whole class for what one kid did wrong. 😦


    • Exactly. I understand the crackdown, but once someone has established a valid need for the drug, it shouldn’t be such a problem to get it. Mom’s doctor approved the Tramadol, but *if* she needs a refill, she has to go back and get approved again. “If.” That’s funny. Definition of “chronic pain” takes the “if” factor out of it.


  6. Joanne Hillman says:

    Linda, I’m so sorry. I pray God gives you and your mom’s doctors special wisdom to combat the pain. At her age and condition, I would think they’d make exceptions.


  7. I agree with the others, it seems the pendulum (with everything) swings far right and left, never stays in the middle. I keep your Mom (and you) in my daily prayers. Maybe I should be praying for the doctors too, so that they will have enough wisdom and compassion to help those who live with chronic debilitating pain.


  8. Lori Ellis says:

    Sweet friend, we are living the same path just different ailments. My Mom takes Hydrocodone and is blessed to have a pain specialist, Dr. James Stonesipher who trusts her usage. I was using Tramadol because all other pain meds made me ill without nausea medicine. That was to me plus cognitove impaorment began. I got off all pain meds and it has been a rough ride but I’m sixty, Mom is 82. She has had a couple of falls and is deteriorating before my eyes. She does love to walk in the pool. It is a wonderful resistance exercise where she says. “I cannot fall.” Mom has become depressed and I pray for her but admit to worrying too much. I will pray and lift up all four of us. God has a plan. God says I will give you rest. My gift truly, but it is the result of your trust. Train yourself so completely that not even a tremor of doubt or fear can enter in. No fear of the future. No cloud over the present. No shadow on the past. When there is absence of fear it is from the strength for the way gained through contact with God; and complete reluance on His Tenderness and His Power; and then you have the gift of His rest.


    • Thank you for the encouragement, sweetheart. Praying for you and your mom. Trusting in God is the easy part. Watching Mom move around in so much pain is rough–as I’m sure you know from experience.


  9. RobbyeFaye says:

    Oh, Linda, my heart aches for your mom.
    I have chronic pain, and tramadol doesn’t even begin to touch the pain. I have bone on bone and bone spurs cutting the ligaments and muscles in my legs so I can empathize with her knee and shoulder pain, too
    I agree with the person who said it’s like punishing the whole class for one troublemaker.
    I’ve seen both sides of the coin, having had a brother that fought addiction for years, and how easy it was for him to go from doctor to doctor piling up the drugs. I had a friend dying (given only a few days and in the hospital to manage her final days) from bladder cancer who was denied more pain meds because (in her 3-4 days left) she MIGHT become addicted.
    There HAS to be a better answer.
    (Sorry for the rant, but it angers me that people like your mom have to pay for other people’s stupidity and lack of control or conscience!)
    Praying for her, and for answers, too!


    • Thanks for the rant–no apology necessary! Your description sounds exactly like what Mom is going through, and though Tramadol doesn’t alleviate all the pain it does help a little. Far more than Tylenol alone. I’m sorry for the people who get addicted, but my sympathy extends only as far as the addiction itself. Once they realize they’re addicted, they need to do something about it. That’s their responsibility.

      Liked by 1 person

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