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Drugs, pain and choice

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I really haven’t said much yet about Rush Limbaugh’s drug situation. It’s kind of a difficult subject for me, because I have more than a bit of experience of my own with hydrocodone and other prescription painkillers.

Part of me wants to have compassion for him – drug addiction is a hard thing to deal with and can be very difficult to kick. Where I get hung up, though, is in my own experience, which has been that if you use the medications according to the doctor’s instructions addiction can also be avoided.

In his Statement on Prescription Pain Medication Stories, Limbaugh points out that he was prescribed the painkillers following back surgery, and that he still has severe pain in his back. While he says he’s not making excuses, the feeling I got from his statement is that he hopes we will understand that because he still has pain he “had” to take more drugs than he should have or that we’re supposed to feel sorry for him because he’s in pain.

I know what it’s like to live with chronic, severe pain. Along with the depression and Tourette’s Syndrome I’ve mentioned before, I also have severe arthritis. It’s mostly in my knees, but it’s starting to develop in other joints as well, and it’s severe enough that it’s the main factor in my being homebound for the last 5 years. To deal with the pain, I take prescription painkillers every day. I’ve always taken care, however, to make sure that I use them in accordance with my doctor’s instructions. He prescribes a certain number of pills to last me for a certain amount of time. I make it a challenge to myself to make the pills last longer than I have to (and usually succeed). I take one dose when I first get up, because the pain then is at its worst. For the rest of the day, I only take more if I truly need it. There are some days I take the full allotment for the day and some days when, admittedly, I may take an extra dose, but there are also days where I take fewer than allowed and some where I only take the morning dose. Often I make a conscious choice to put up with more pain than I maybe have to, in order to ensure that I don’t start abusing them.

Every time I pick up the bottle of pills, I make a conscious choice to take them or not. If I’m having an extremely bad day, and I choose to take more pills than would be allotted for that day, then I know I’m going to have to also choose to put up with extra pain another day to make sure I don’t go through the bottle too fast (which would be a sign of a problem, as far as I’m concerned).

Yes, it takes some work to make sure that I don’t take too many pills or go through them so fast that I run the risk of addiction, but I know the dangers and I deliberately choose to exert caution. By the same token, if I started taking more than I’m supposed to on a regular basis, it would be by my own choice – I’m the one that’s in control, here. I decide how many I take and how often I take them. If I ran through my “stash” too soon and wanted more, I would have to make a deliberate choice to obtain more – whether it meant trying to find another doctor to prescribe them through a different pharmacy or finding someone to go make deals in the parking lot of the local Denny’s. These aren’t things that just “happen” on their own.

So, while part of me has sympathy for a fellow pain sufferer, part of me is angry that he’s trying to explain away the choices that he made to abuse what could have been a useful tool – if used properly – to help alleviate the pain.

Believe me, I understand the temptation. The pain killers I take never make the pain go away entirely, but they do reduce it to a point where I can at least function somewhat normally – even if I still can’t get out of the house. But they can also give me a nice, warm buzzy feeling that just makes it easier not to care so much about the pain I feel. I won’t deny there are days I want to be able to crawl into that little bottle of white pills and just not give a damn about anything, but I choose not to.

Instead, I rely on my faith and the Gods to help me find the strength to keep going and I find ways to keep myself distracted from how I’m feeling – this blog is one of the biggest sources of pain management therapy I have. Playing the guitar and video games are a couple others. Each of them give me different ways to keep my mind distracted, and different ways to deal with the anger I feel as the injustice of having to live with all this pain. Yelling about Bush, researching a story that I find interesting or important, trying to sort out what’s true, what’s rumour and what’s spin, soothing myself with music, numbing my mind with the repetition of practicing a certain lick or riff until I get it right, working out aggression playing a loud, rocking tune, blasting little pixelated men and beasts with my little pixelated warrior, solving puzzles, letting myself slip – temporarily – into some ancient magical world, all of these are ways I cope. And when they don’t work, I seek solace in my faith.

So I really don’t know how to approach this story. I don’t want to condemn Rush Limbaugh – each of us have our weaknesses, and, apparently, this is one of his. I certainly wish him the best and hope that this time, his efforts at getting off and staying off the drugs succeed. But I don’t want to see people lose sight of the fact that he has this problem because of the choices he made – and that there are other options to drug abuse for dealing with severe pain.

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About thorswitch

  • Steve Rhodes

    It is interesting that people who scoff at the idea of mitigating circumstances because most children who were abused goes on to become a murderer (or whatever) are now talking about Rush’s pain being a mitigating circumstance.

    The truth is many people in chronic pain who have far fewer resources than Rush don’t abuse drugs or obtain them illegally.

    Now I think we should have a universal health care system which deals with pain much better.

    I’ve had tendonitis since 1996 when I worked extremely long hours at an internet start-up with really bad ergonomics. I had to take a year off work and stay away from computers and do lots of painful therapy. I could have gotten pain killers but chose not to because of the dangers of addiction.

    And while it is a lot better, I’ll always have tendonitis, always have some pain and periods of acute pain no matter how many breaks I take, how careful I am.