Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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Bugs crawled under the surface of my skin. They kept moving, swarming, crawling in a never-ending loop under my collar bone. Down the side of my leg. Scuttling all over my back in places I couldn’t reach. 

I was in hour 17 of withdrawal from prescription opioids. It was my third shower of the day, and I  couldn’t shake a sensation that felt like live bugs all over my body. When I turned up the water as hot as possible, it felt like their movement slowed. 

My parents had designed and built a beautiful shower. It was large, with a floor made of different shaped stones instead of sterile porcelain or tile. The smooth stones under my feet gave me focus. 

There was a wooden stool in the shower. My sister, Carey, told my parents to put one in there after visiting. The shower was so stylized that it lacked practicality. How could she possibly shave her legs in that thing? There was no way to prop up a foot without falling over. 

The stool became my saving grace. I didn’t have enough energy to stand, so I sat on the stool and let the hot water cascade as I waited for the bugs to slow down, and during the shower I took at hour 17, the stool became my altar. I knelt on the floor and bent over it, and begged God to remember me. To release me. To give me strength. 

I was in hell. 

***

Three months earlier, in July, I had trouble getting through to my neurologist to schedule my semi-annual checkup. I was on the phone on hold with her office, but kept getting disconnected. 

I’d had the same neurologist for five years. She was fine enough, but every time I saw her she made me tell the story about how I ended up with chronic pain. She would ask how I was doing, and I would tell her there had been no changes. She would then write a prescription for pain medication. I would be in and out of her office in 10 minutes.

That night I checked the mail. There was a letter explaining that my neurologist didn’t work for the hospital anymore and that I should get a new doctor. There was no forwarding address. 

She was gone and I had a problem—my pain medication was running out. The chronic pain in my leg was too intense to go without medicine. I had 35 pills left and I needed a new doctor. That gave me five full days to find another neurologist in D.C., schedule an appointment, get in to their office, hope they believed my medical history, and leave with a new prescription. 

Shit.

I made an appointment with my general practitioner, and as I sat in her office the letter from the disappearing neurologist was on her desk. Even though I had only seen this GP twice, I hoped that she would give me a stop-gap in pills—just enough to get me through the next month while I found a new neurologist. 

After scanning my records and listening to me describe my medical history, she said, “You know you are an addict, right?” 

 “Wait, what?” I almost laughed. 

“Do you think you are an addict?” she asked. 

“No. Wait. I’m just taking my prescription meds.” 

 “What happens if you don’t take them?” she asked. 

 “The pain is so overwhelming that I can’t walk.” 

 “And, how long have you been on them?” She looked at my record on her computer. “Five years?” 

I’ve been on them for 10 years.

 “You can’t be on opioids for five years.”

Ten. Ten years. 

She sighed. “You are going to have a hard time finding someone else to prescribe these to you.” 

She wrote a prescription for 180 pills. 

I left her office in a daze. How can you be an addict if you are taking the medicine that is prescribed to you? 

Credit: Darrow Montgomery

***

Imagine being locked in a room. You have freedom to move around in the space, but you can never go outside of it. There is a door, and the door has a window. You can see out the window but you can’t open the door. You can merely observe what is happening on the other side. You must remain in the room. Sure, you are living life, but your life is small and confined. 

That’s what my chronic pain is like.

Now imagine someone giving you a stick of dynamite with a lit fuse. Use the stick and you won’t merely open the door, but blow it off its hinges. 

That dynamite, for me, is a drug called Tramadol. It’s an amazingly effective synthetic opioid. It’s cheap. And you better believe it gets the job done. 

When people speak of the opioid crisis they typically frame it in terms of overdoses and deaths, and with good reason. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that more than 90 Americans die every day from opioid overdoses. In my city, D.C., there were 231 opioid-related deaths in 2016. It is, without question, a crisis.  

Yet there is another story happening simultaneously. For more than two decades it was an unremarkable tale about people with chronic pain using opioids in a legitimate manner to manage their physical pain. In the late 1990s, drug companies went on a marketing spree to convince doctors that opioids were not addictive. The rebranding of opioids significantly increased the number of doctors writing prescriptions. Opioids were presented as a safe option for controlling, alleviating, and managing pain. 

That’s how the drug was first presented to me in 2007. My neurologist at the time explained that, although we didn’t understand why my leg hurt, we would try a drug that may reduce the pain. He told me that the drug was non-addictive.

He wrote a prescription for a pain medication called Tramadol and told me that if it worked, then we’d know my pain was neurological. 

I filled my prescription. I took a pill. And my life instantly changed. 

The door to the room was blown off, and I could join what was on the other side. I found so much life there waiting—love, marriage, work, friendships. All of the boring, wonderous, exceptional, tedious things that make up a life. 

It was two years before I read the fine print on Tramadol. It was a synthetic opioid—something that didn’t register as important at the time. The fact that did stick, however, was that getting off of it mimicked heroin withdrawal. But that didn’t bother me too much, either. My doctor found a successful way to manage my pain through pills. Plus, I could stay on them forever.

***

The pain first started one morning when I was 25. I woke up and felt tingling in the left side of my body. First it was my foot. By the end of the day the tingling had spread to my arm. A trip to the emergency room and an EKG yielded no results.

Over the next year and a half, the symptoms spread dramatically. I was in constant, excruciating pain. When I spoke my speech was slurred. I contemplated learning sign language to communicate until I began having trouble moving my fingers. I could walk, but my steps were labored. 

Doctors tested me for everything imaginable. I had scans, MRIs, a spinal tap. One doctor told me that I should lift weights because my problem was that I lacked upper body strength. Another professional said psychological problems were causing the pain. An acclaimed female neurologist suggested that I didn’t have to make up symptoms to get attention. 

My neurologists were honing in on a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis when something extraordinary happened. I decided to stop taking the birth control pills I had been on for five years. Within two weeks most of my symptoms went away, and I discovered that every one of them were listed as possible side effects of the birth control. 

The return of my health was fast and dramatic. It was a revelation.  

But as the other symptoms lifted, the pain in my leg remained, and my initial excitement dissipated when I realized that I still had trouble walking. The extreme pain settled into a chronic roar that never went away. Until I was offered Tramadol. 

Ten years later I was still on Tramadol, on a dosage I’d never increased. I used it as prescribed, frequently taking fewer than my allotted number of pills per day. I never experimented with party drugs or mixed anything else in my system. The pain in my leg never disappeared, but the medication numbed it enough that I could function in my life. Everything plugged along. Until I found myself smack in the middle of the opioid crisis.  

***

My husband and I booked a weekend trip to New York a few days after my general practitioner called me an addict. I had enough pills to get through the month, and I wanted to travel with Navin while I was still on medication—to make memories while life was somewhat normal. It was obvious that my days with Tramadol were numbered, and we had no idea what was going to happen when I went off the drug. It felt like an abyss. 

I had forgotten the full, raw force of pain, but I had experienced hints of its power over the course of a decade on Tramadol. Once or twice a year I wouldn’t time a pill correctly, or would forget the medication at home, and a door into the past would open as pain ripped through my body. I would crawl into the fetal position, breathing deeply while I waited an hour for the medicine to make its way through my system. If Navin was around he would crawl into bed, curl up next to me, and read outloud to distract my brain as we waited the hour. 

It was penance for being forgetful, for not bowing down to Tramadol and giving it the respect it demanded.

My largest and most frightening question as I prepared to go off the medicine: Would I be able to walk? Before going on Tramadol I could walk, but the act was labor-intensive. The right side of my body was continuously overcompensating for the weakness and pain in the left. It was as if I was only given a specific number of steps per day, and even those steps were tainted by pain—its barbed, continuous hum never stopping, never letting up. 

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Those were my thoughts as Navin and I packed for New York. I grabbed my bottle of Tramadol and tossed it in the direction of my bag. But as it landed, the top flew off. Pills spilled everywhere—in and on my bag, within the folds of my bedspread, on the floor, under the bed. Pills scattered like confetti. 

The panic was immediate. I scrambled to the floor, picking up Tramadol with shaking hands, sobbing. Navin came up behind me, threw his arms around me and pulled me into a tight hug. 

“We’ll get them. We will get all the pills,” he said. 

“But what if we don’t? What if I don’t find them all?” I shrieked. 

“I will help you. We will get them all.” 

“Every pill is four-and-a-half hours! That’s four-and-a-half hours I can walk. If I lose one I don’t walk for four-and-a-half hours,” I screamed. 

Navin pulled me in tighter, telling me to breathe. “We will find them,” he whispered in my ear. “I will help you, I will help you.” With his help I found them all.

Manhattan was a wonderful distraction. I invented games for us to play as we walked through the city. “The Passing By” game was born of hearing snippets of conversations as we walked by people. The objective was to say the weirdest thing possible as we passed a group. 

“That’s why they gave her four tentacles instead of six!” I yelled to Navin as we crossed the street. “And that’s why giraffes can never be friends with dogs,” I yelled at another intersection. 

I invented the Sam Waterston game at a bar after we recognized a location from a Law & Order episode. We took turns saying ironic or punny lines that Waterston’s character, Jack McCoy, might say, then slamming down a glass of bourbon. “The Russians were twins. We weren’t seeing double,” Navin said, then took a swig of his drink and slapped it on the table. 

We walked over the bridge to Brooklyn, stopping at a farmers market where we bought doughnuts so big I held mine with both hands. They dripped with gobs of chocolate. We sat on the sidewalk eating, getting chocolate all over our faces. I took a deep breath in. This was happiness. 

***

Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Back in D.C., my next appointment was with another doctor in the same practice as the disappearing neurologist. In a perfect world I would have loved to have branched out—to have gotten the name of a brilliant doctor. The opioid crisis, though, had changed the tenor of being a patient. It was about playing the odds: Who was going to believe my story? 

And my story wasn’t tidy. I had no official diagnosis. Every test had always come back within a normal range. Even though the starting point of my pain was known as a reaction to birth control, doctors were quick to question if it had actually happened. 

I needed to go to a doctor who had access to my files and relationships with my past doctors. Being a known quantity was a factor in my favor. 

What was not in my favor is that I don’t “look sick.” You would have to look at the soles of my shoes to see that I drag my left foot. In group settings I always manage to find a chair or a counter to lean against. Only my husband knows that I jump whenever my legs or feet are touched. I may meet friends for dinner, but afterwards I clear my schedule to compensate for the exhaustion caused by pushing myself beyond my regular routine. These are normal, not piteous, parts of my daily life. 

When I met with the new doctor I told him that I was a previous patient of the disappearing neurologist. I explained my background as he looked into my files. I told him I was on an anti-inflammation diet as a way to help with pain. He rolled his eyes. 

He spent 10 minutes with me and prescribed another drug that is used to treat unexplained neurological pain. I instantly recognized its name: Lyrica. 

I said yes to the prescription, but when I got home I looked up Lyrica’s side effects. The federal government classified it as a Schedule V Controlled Substance. Tramadol was classified as a Schedule IV Controlled Substance.

If I took the new drug I’d just be just trading one controlled substance for another. 

Would I be in the same place in five years? Would I end up in another doctor’s office facing accusations of being an addict? 

I filled the prescription, put it in my medicine cabinet, and decided not to touch it.

Feeling desperate for some professional guidance, I made a second appointment with my general practitioner. The scheduling service prompted me with a question: What’s the reason for this visit? My answer: “In need of a plan regarding Tramadol.” 

Two days later I received a call from an administrative assistant at my doctor’s office. “Why do you need this appointment?” she asked.

“I need a plan. I’m not sure what to do regarding my Tramadol prescription and I know the rules regarding the drug are changing. I need guidance.” 

The day of the appointment I walked into my doctor’s office and pulled out a notebook where I’d written out questions. I told her about starting an anti-inflammation diet. She approved, and said it was a great idea. 

I told her that I was headed to North Carolina, where my parents live, for an intensive acupuncture session, that I had seen a neurologist and he had given me a new drug, but I was hesitant to try it. 

“Should I take it?” I asked. 

“Do whatever you want.” she replied. 

It wasn’t an answer I was expecting. I was confused, but continued on. Was there more I could be doing? What were my options? Did I need to start from scratch and pursue the source of the pain? Did I need more testing? 

She pushed her chair back from her desk and stared at me. She crossed her arms. 

“I’m not going to give you any more pills.” 

“I’m not asking for drugs.” I took a breath. “I’m here for a plan.” I pointed to my notebook full of questions. 

She continued to stare me down. 

“Are my questions bothering you?” I asked. 

“That’s a weird thing to ask.” She pulled her chair back up to her desk. “I just have to say it’s weird. It’s weird that you’ve been on Tramadol for that long.” 

“I’ve been taking that drug because my neurologist prescribed it for my pain. It worked. There was no reason to question it. I used it exactly as it was prescribed.” 

“You need to go to a pain clinic. Pain clinics are for getting off of opioids. They are going to tell you to get off of them.” 

“That’s what pain clinics do?” 

“Make an appointment.” She closed my folder. Our discussion was over. 

It took me a couple of hours to realize that she thought that I was there to score drugs, that I was scamming pills. It threw me into a rage.

***

I took my dwindling Tramadol supply to North Carolina.

My parents moved to an island off the Carolina coast when they retired. They also, to my surprise, started going to an acupuncturist, Cheryl Blankenship of Island Acupuncture & Massage. They raved about her intuitive understanding of pain and how to alleviate it. My father especially encouraged me to try electro-acupuncture—the process of applying an electrical current to acupuncture needles to more deeply penetrate acupoints. 

Perhaps an intensive two weeks of electro-acupuncture would interrupt my pain cycle. After so many years my brain was on a type of pain loop. There was a deeply entrenched pathway that was ingrained in my body and kept expressing pain the same way. 

It was a desperate, end-of-my rope, why-the-hell-not move. The island was quiet. I didn’t have to worry about dealing with logistics or public transportation. I was lucky and I knew it. My parents would handle meals and had a quiet room where I could sleep, I had savings to pay for the acupuncture treatments, and I could take two weeks off of work to tend to my health. 

Cheryl believed me. I saw her three times a week and she didn’t judge me for taking pain medication. She mirrored my own frustration. “The medical community got you fixed on those pills and then they just left you there,” she said. 

Perhaps it was all of the factors coming together. My mom’s optimism. My dad’s strength. Cheryl’s anger on my behalf. The ability to take time to deal only with my health. Whatever the combination of factors, I decided to start spacing out the time between my pills. 

The Tramadol prescription was 50 mg per pill, and I could use up to six per a day. On a typical day I used four or five pills, depending on my activity level. 

I started out small, experimenting to see if I could go an hour past what felt comfortable.

Could I go three hours? Five hours? Twelve? Fifteen? The repercussions were swift and excruciating. At first it felt like a mild flu—body aches, chills, shaking. But I didn’t take a pill. 

When I prayed to God in the shower at hour 17, I decided there was no way I could go back and start over. The gulf of pain was too great. What started off as an experiment to see if I could lengthen the time between pills turned into going off of them completely.

For the first few days it felt like bugs were crawling under my skin. Then the pain turned. The bugs went away, and in their place came electricity. 

At random intervals a current would shoot up the left side of my body, electrocuting me from the inside. I would grab the sides of the bed, the sheets, the walls, and hold on as the pain bounced and pinged its fire from corner to corner internally. 

Tom Petty had died a few days earlier and his face was on television, on Twitter, on Instagram. His face floated in and out of my consciousness. He hovered as I went from sleeping to a state of pain so acute that the edges of my sight went fuzzy. I found myself singing the lyrics of “I Won’t Back Down” over and over again. 

It was Mom who figured out that the waves of electricity were coming every four-and-a-half hours. It should have been obvious—four and a half hours was roughly how often I took one pill of Tramadol during waking hours. My body was having a temper tantrum when it didn’t get medicine. The highest point of the cycle of electricity would endure for a little over half an hour. That meant all I had to do was outlast it.

The pain would push and push until I thought I would lose my mind from anguish. Then it would back off and settle. I would breathe, wait for the next cycle, and sing with Tom Petty, Patron Saint of Withdrawal. 

Three months later news broke that Petty died with opioids in his system.

***

At my parents’ house, one thought stayed with me as a touchstone of hope: At least I have kratom when I get back to D.C. 

I’d stumbled across kratom in August, two months before I went to North Carolina, while working on my Buy D.C. column for this newspaper. As a retail reporter, my days often consisted of finding products in independent stores to feature each week. 

While running an errand on U Street NW I passed by a new shop called Qi Kratom CBD Tea. It had an entire wall of glass jars filled with green powder. What was this stuff? 

I introduced myself to the co-owner, ee (who has specified that his name is lowercase) and asked questions about the products. What was the green stuff in all the jars? That, ee explained, was kratom, a ground leaf from a plant grown in Southeast Asia that was closely related to the coffee plant. It was known for its positive effects on the body including its ability to help people with energy, sleep, and pain. 

Kratom is effective but controversial. For some people with chronic pain it can be a godsend—an affordable substance that calms pain and is an alternative to prescription drugs. It also acts on some of the same brain receptors as opioids, but isn’t an opioid. That’s where the controversy comes in. 

Kratom critics rail against the substance, calling it potentially addictive and citing a handful of cases where people were found dead with kratom in their systems. (ee quickly told me that almost everyone that died had other substances in their systems besides kratom.)

A 2017 resource guide by the U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration named kratom as a “drug of concern” and stressed that the Food and Drug Administration hasn’t approved the substance for any medical use. But I learned that it was legal in most states and the District. The most common methods of ingestion are to swallow it in capsule form or to put the powder in tea and drink it. 

I left the store with small amounts of two kinds of kratom—a green and a red strain. 

Kratom tastes like dirt. The first time I tried it I swirled half a teaspoon in a tepid cup of earl gray tea, took a sip, and immediately started coughing. It tasted like muddy, gunky sludge. I forced down the rest of the drink, packed some Tramadol in my bag, and set off for the day. 

Three hours later I still hadn’t reached for a pill. Tramadol was a drug I needed in my system at all times in order to function. Yet, here I was hours after taking kratom and I still hadn’t taken meds. 

I used kratom sparingly in the following weeks. I didn’t want to overwhelm my body or put myself in any danger. I still didn’t quite understand what kratom was or the technicalities of what it was doing in my body. I could take one dose of kratom (½ teaspoon) and wouldn’t have to take one pill. There were zero side effects. I didn’t feel sluggish or high. There was no fuzzy, far off feeling. Everything about how I operated was exactly the same, except the pain dramatically decreased through the magic of a plant versus prescription medication.  

Government concerns about kratom mirror my own. Its classification with the FDA is in flux. Research on the long-term effects of the leaf is limited. Not enough resources have been allocated to clinical trials. 

After preliminary research I realized that Qi Kratom CBD Tea was essentially the Tiffany’s of kratom distribution. Most people find kratom at smoke shops or even gas stations. It is sold online, but it can be difficult to find out who is actually selling the product. At Qi Kratom, ee knew his supply chain. 

In short, I felt safe. Here was a store within walking distance of my apartment that provided a solution. If I couldn’t find a doctor to prescribe Tramadol, if the government outlawed opioids, if I was down to my last pill and had nothing else, there was an ace up my sleeve. I had kratom. 

I came back from North Carolina with two problems. 1. Withdrawal. 2. The original pain. 

Kratom is known for calming withdrawal symptoms. For many people getting off of opioids, it acts as a bridge. I was nearing the end of my supply, so I went down to just ¼th of a teaspoon in the morning and again in the evening. It didn’t make the withdrawal symptoms go away completely, but it rounded its sharp corners. I could function during the day. It wasn’t perfect, but it was enough for me to think, “OK, I can do this. I can be on kratom for a while as things get figured out.” 

I dropped by Qi Kratom CBD Tea to restock my supply. As I opened the front door I noticed that the word “kratom” was covered in their store sign. I took two steps inside and saw that the kratom was gone. 

I heard the woman behind the counter explain to other perplexed customers that WUSA9, a local news station, had aired a story on kratom, framing it as controversial. That report delved into a number of issues regarding the legality and potentially addictive properties of kratom. After the story came out, Qi Kratom CBD Tea’s owners decided to take all of the kratom off their shelves. 

There was no ace up my sleeve. There was no Plan B. Hell, there wasn’t even a plan to help my withdrawal that night. 

A few weeks later Kellyanne Conway was announced as the point person for the opioid crisis within President Donald Trump’s administration. When I found out, I laughed so hard I cried. 

***

Credit: Darrow Montgomery

I ordered a stool for our bathroom because I couldn’t stand up for the length of a shower. I was living life, but back in the small room with the door, observing what was on the outside. 

The thought that kept me going was that I’d scheduled an appointment with a chronic pain doctor. The day before seeing her for the first time I made a list of each drug I’d tried over the past decade, and my reason for giving it up. (Spoiler alert: It was always due to heart palpitations). I wrote out a timeline of my pain then gathered every single test result I could find—every note, every piece of paper given to me by a previous doctor. 

It was all armor as I prepared myself for a game of “Do You Believe My Pain Is Real?” Preparation, I hoped, would show that I was worthy of being believed. 

I opened a new document on my computer to copy and paste the side effects of birth control pills for when I was inevitably asked, “How did your pain start?” It had been a few years since I reviewed this information. When I got to a section listing “possible side effects” I noticed that the information was the same, but it was categorized in a different way. 

My side effects were now under a section called “Signs of a Stroke.” 

Signs of a Stroke

  • Sudden numbness or weakness (especially on one side of the body) 
  • Sudden severe headache 
  • Slurred speech 
  • Problems with vision 
  • Problems with balance 

I read the list over again. I read the heading. Suddenly, that whole period of my life clicked into place. Holy shit. Had I had a stroke? Birth control pills have been known to increase the risk for stroke. I remembered reading about the connection so many years ago the information had faded into the background. 

The next day I was still attempting to digest what I had read as I waited to see my new chronic pain specialist. But mostly I was just nervous. I had been off of opioids for six weeks, which meant the doctor could skip the addiction part and go straight to figuring out how to deal with pain. 

I handed over my timeline, the list of drugs I had tried other than Tramadol, the side effects of birth control, and all of the records I had on hand. 

She walked briskly into the room and launched into a discussion about my pain. I liked her instantly. She talked so fast it was hard to keep up. She was straightforward and upbeat. But, most of all, she believed that I was in pain. 

After I’d laid out all of the information and history, and answered her questions, she said: “I think you need to go back on Tramadol.” 

I always thought the expression “I almost fell out of my chair,” was hyperbole. But I almost fell out of my chair. 

“You need to go back on Tramadol,” she repeated. 

My brain did not comprehend her words. “Doctors called me an addict. I was told that I wasn’t supposed to be on this drug. I just spent weeks getting off,” I explained. 

“Yeah, you were talking to other doctors. I’m a pain specialist. All of those pills were prescribed for years by people who shouldn’t be prescribing them,” she said. 

She went on to explain that there were only a handful of drugs on the market that could help, and that my heart palpitations on other drugs already eliminated four of them. The lowest hanging fruit, the most logical course of action, was simple. 

The prescription came with rules. I needed to go on a time-release version of the pill. No more of this taking one every four-and-a-half hours nonsense. I would start on the lowest dose, 100mg, and have one pill each day. The prescription would only be for 30 pills, so every month I’d have to trek back in for an appointment for a new prescription. There were to be random drug tests. If anything else was in my system I would immediately be taken off the opioids. 

She handed me a cup to urinate in. The drug testing started now.  

***

So that’s it, right? I got back on opioids, they took care of the pain, and I could ride off into the sunset, correct? 

Not quite. 

This past month I went to a CVS pharmacy on 14th Street NW where I have been going for years. I turned in my prescription and waited for the order. A pharmacist called me to the counter and informed me that the pills weren’t in stock. They would be in the store in three days, and would I mind coming back? I explained that no, I couldn’t come back. I had one pill left for the next day and couldn’t have a gap in coverage. No problem, they said. They would transfer my prescription to another CVS where they had the pills.

I walked to another CVS on U Street NW. The pharmacist there informed me that she couldn’t help me because a new rule had gone into effect in D.C. where prescriptions of a controlled substance couldn’t be transferred between pharmacies. 

It took running back and forth between the two pharmacies and a call to my doctor to figure out how to get the medication. 

And that was just this month. 

In February I go out of town around the 30-day mark when I should be renewing my prescription. At my last appointment I asked if I could get five more pills to make it through the trip. Turns out, I can’t. I have to go in prior to the trip to renew the prescription. It wouldn’t be a problem, but insurance may not cover the cost because I’m renewing the prescription before 30 days. 

Also, I only get a couple of travel-related passes. Every 30 days I have to see my doctor. There is some leniency, but I can only go outside of those parameters a few times each year. 

The state of Florida is considering a bill that would restrict opioids to a seven-day, rather than a 30-day, prescription limit. For those suffering from chronic pain, the implications are cruel. It’s a sentence that would drive people back into that small room, held captive by their own pain. It would also set a frightening precedent. 

According to the National Institutes of Health, one out of every 10 people in America deals with chronic pain. People live with it all of the time. Now those same people also live with a government that prolongs their suffering through its late, sloppy, and misguided crusade. 

The government’s attempt to stop feeding the monster crisis that pharmaceutical companies created is also serving as punishment for patients who dare to need a drug that is suddenly taboo. Chronic pain patients suffer as pharmaceutical companies back away with their fingers pointed at patients. The patients are the ones to blame. They are addicts. 

And the drug companies are getting away with it, just as they got away with the epidemic they created.

***

There is one other possibility of how I can manage pain without drugs. It involves an implant that blocks the signal of pain to the brain. It consists of two parts that would be inserted in my body. One part looks like a thin wire that would run along my spine. The other looks like a remote control that is about half of the size of my palm. That part is typically inserted into a patient’s butt, but because I’m petite, I would have to have the device implanted in my back. 

The idea of placing an implant in my back scares me. So I will wait because there is no other choice. I pray that the technologists will make a smaller implant or that a new drug will come out. 

Today I have one pill. I will take it and walk out of my apartment and onto the street. I will be able to take a shower tonight without sitting on a stool. I don’t know if I will have access to pills 30 days from now or 30 days after that, but at this moment, I have relief.