Hey, FDA

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Hey, FDA:

I am tired of being infantilized as a patient. I am really tired.

With the increasing number of people being addicted to painkillers and other drugs, you have decided, that it’s best to crack down, to make it harder to obtain these products, and to monitor emergency rooms. You’re overlooking that most opioid people addicted to opioids actually did not get them prescribed, but had them illegally- they stole from a friend etc. As Maia Szalavitz of Scientific American explains:

“According to the large, annually repeated and representative National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 75 percent of all opioid misuse starts with people using medication that wasn’t prescribed for them—obtained from a friend, family member or dealer. ”

Those of us, who actually need the painkillers and sleep aids are being punished though.

Let me give you an example: Ambien. After months of perfect sleep, two weeks ago, my friend insomnia started again. So, I made sure I exercised enough. I stopped watching TV in the evening to be calm. I drank camomille bedtime tea. It did not help. After two more days, I was out of laundry that I could fold at night, and wanted to take an ambien. I was out. I phoned my prescribing doctor, in this case my GI. Another two days later (I was having headaches from the sleep deprivation), I was informed that he couldn’t prescribe the Ambien to me anymore, my regular doctor had to do this. So, I call, and they tell me I had to have an appointment, yes, they knew this was silly, but per regulation, I had to do it. Luckily, there was an opening in the next half hour. Luckily, I work from home and can be somewhat flexible. I didn’t deem myself fit to drive anymore at this point, so I walked the ten blocks. I dropped my $25 co-pay, and spoke to my doctor. He agreed with me how ridiculous it all is- especially since Benadryl (the active ingredient in most OTC sleep aids) stays in your system way longer than Ambien. He could not send the prescription to my pharmacy, but had to print it out, and I had to walk it over to the pharmacy (that happened to be only one block away). There, my regular pharmacist was not there, instead, some self-important 18- year old checked my ID, told me that this was a controlled substance, so he had to make sure. He called the doctor’s office, to check whether I hadn’t forged the Doctor’s signature. Then I was told that it would take another day to fill my 30 pill supply. I dragged myself the ten blocks home again, and the next day, picked it up. My regular pharmacist was still not there, so I had to listen to this 18 year old give me a lecture on the dangers of addiction, on how a healthy lifestyle can help with insomnia and that I should be really careful. So, after a week and countless indignities later, I finally had a good night’s sleep.

Here’s the thing. This all worked out for me, because I live in a city that is walkable. Because I have a doctor that understands me and my needs. Because I could afford to get off work for a bit to take care of this. Because I was physically able to walk ten blocks one way. Most people don’t have any of these things, and are fucked.

Let me give you another example: When I had my MRSA infection, I was in a lot of pain. My doctor prescribed me Hydrocodone.  I had to go in person, wait in line, in absolute agony, to hand in the prescription, to repeat the same thing in the afternoon to pick it up.

I couldn’t help but feel that I was not only judged for needing these medications, but also punished. I had seen a doctor, for crying out loud. I had a prescription. And still, I had to go through all of this BS. And I am not the only one. The internet is full of stories like these, where people with chronic pain, sleeplessness and other issues are not only shamed but also made to jump through hoops to get what they need.

“steps to limit prescribing opioids for chronic pain run a great risk of harming pain patients without doing much to stop addiction. The vast majority of people who are prescribed opioids use them responsibly—recent research on roughly one million insurance claims for opioid prescriptions showed that just less than five percent of patients misused the drugs by getting prescriptions for them from multiple doctors.”

Here is what I don’t understand, FDA. If the horrible, horrible opioid and sleeping pill addiction is a problem for you, how is you cracking down on those who obtain these medications legally going to change?

Moreover, what do you do with all the people who actually are addicted? Will you simply let them die off from withdrawal? How is this working? If, together with the crack-down, you had opened more drug rehabilitation centers, funded research into other, non-addicting painkillers, then maybe I’d be on board.

At the end of the day, you’re punishing those who’d need the help.

Sources: Maia Szalavitz, “Opioid Addiction is a huge problem, but Pain Prescriptions are not the cause”, Scientific American, May 2016.

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