By Sherri Silesky - Author

It is remarkably easy to lose one's health and wealth, while finding and qualifying for available safety nets is horrifically difficult.

I AM NOT A DRUG ADDICT. I have a genetic disorder called neurofibromatosis. I have inoperable tumors everywhere in my body, and the ones on my lumbar spine are causing me pain that cannot be adequately described. I live at a “5” on the 1 to 10 scale of pain. I do not go for a 1 or a zero. On bad days, which are many, I am at a 7 or higher. Often, all I can do is lay flat. I cannot sit more than 20 minutes without excruciating pain.

I AM NOT A DRUG ADDICT. The behaviors of drug addicts and those with untreated chronic pain are similar, and I have an abstract on the aberrant behaviors of drug addicts as written by a physician. This often leaves doctors, DEA administrators, pharmacists and lay people to think patients are addicts. Also, because many pain patients have no outward signs of illness, such as canes and wheelchairs, chronic pain can best be described as an invisible disease, causing more confusion for family, friends, co-workers and the world at large. We become good at “faking it” for friends and family members, because if we complain or get angry, we are labeled difficult. Anger mimics pain as well. People see the scrunched-up faces, the knitted brows, down turned mouths and think we are angry, when all we are is in pain.

I AM NOT A DRUG ADDICT. The Department of Justice (DOJ), in particular the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), has the full weight of this administration on it's side and has been given carte blanche access to doctors and their patients. The 1974 Privacy Act, which was amended in 2002, ensures that access. In addition, prescription monitoring systems trample on the civil rights of patients and doctors and must be opposed and stopped until the ambiguity in the language is clarified because as it stands, anyone, including employers, could potentially access our most private information. And the Bush administration recently announced that this year's national drug strategy will focus on prescription drug abuse by pushing prescription registries and physician prosecutions. Twenty states have thus far adopted these measures with the help of a $300,000 Federal Grant for start up. I also have access to the 2005 Anti Drug Budget. Catching criminals cannot be at the expense of personal privacy. There needs to be checks and balances and they simply do not exist. And the government is busy reclassifying certain pain medications, further limiting access.

I AM NOT A DRUG ADDICT. The DEA, often using SWAT- type tactics, has been known to burst through the doors of pain clinics without warrants or cause, confiscating patient files, computers, and other private data belonging to the clinic, terrorizing patients, arresting doctors and even, it has been reported, conducting body searches of employees. Pharmacists are equally at risk, often times making the decision to discontinue carrying the narcotics needed by pain patients or charging cash to the patient, making it difficult for patients on disability or limited incomes due to illness, to access needed medication. For pain patients, it's called medication.

I AM NOT A DRUG ADDICT. Few pain patients become addicted because we must slowly increase our dosage over time, called titrating. Addicts crush and either inhale or inject the drug. The actual number of true pain patients becoming addicted is 1-3%. The reason higher numbers are quoted is because the statisticians include those who are already addicted, or those with addictive personalities. For addicts, it is called drugs.

I AM NOT A DRUG ADDICT. We must educate and enlighten people by exposing this misuse of administrative power, explaining it's effect on chronic pain patients. The DOJ, whose agents do not possess medical degrees, is setting limits on the appropriate amount of narcotics needed to treat pain instead of letting doctors decide. The tragic outcome is that patients needing medical attention often have no options. The suicide rate for those in untreated chronic pain is 900% higher than that of the general population.

I AM NOT A DRUG ADDICT. Good doctors are having their names maligned, are at risk of losing their malpractice insurance, their licenses, their finances, their freedom and on rare occasions, their lives. Some doctors chose suicide, after being harassed, arrested and tried. Even when these trials end in acquittal, careers are left in shambles due to the doctor not being able to fight the government and it's blank check. And patients are left with no where to turn. While some doctors misuse their privileges, the number being arrested and brought down on charges far exceeds reasonability, amounting to nothing less then a witch hunt.

I AM NOT A DRUG ADDICT. The concern over addiction is unfounded, according to the American Medical Association and the New England Journal of Medicine, yet addiction is often cited as the reason for this crackdown. I have documents of the DEA's classifications of controlled substances as written by a physician (the government is busy reclassifying these medications), a clarification of the myths surrounding the use of narcotics for pain and it's history, and several documents concerning the use of medical marijuana, including why some states have adopted its' use while other states oppose it. Pharmaceutical companies are blocking access to non-narcotic over-the-border options, and money is an enormous roadblock for the sick. Pharmacies are refusing to fill certain orders, or demand cash when again, money is an issue for the sick.

I AM NOT A DRUG ADDICT. What would happen if an insulin-dependent diabetic was denied their medication? How about those with heart, thyroid or kidney disease? At the moment, it's the class of drug at issue, even though these medications do the same thing other medications do — they treat a disease— one called chronic pain. And used correctly, it works well. I possess documents explaining the difference between addiction and dependency, written by a physician. Withdrawal is not a sign of addiction. Used incorrectly, virtually any drug or food is harmful and/or addictive. And people withdrawal from non-narcotics. Withdrawal is the safe, smart way to discontinue using a medication.

I AM NOT A DRUG ADDICT. Pain patients want the same thing everyone wants — to lead normal lives, to contribute to life, to love and be loved, to grow and be happy. Perhaps the most difficult thing about being in chronic pain is knowing the medication needed is available but being denied due to the War on Drugs and the DEA's refusal to distinguish between patients and criminals. And since no administration has come close to shutting down the cartels, the DOJ is going after the easy target: pain patients and the doctors who treat them. Doctors, pharmacists and patients are all at risk. Pain patients have the most to lose.

I AM NOT A DRUG ADDICT. Our government is now operating out of fear, making patients and the doctors who treat them the enemy. Our leaders are behaving like animals caught in a snare, chewing off their legs to survive. And the legs in question is our constitution itself. Little by little, our civil rights are being eroded out of this fear, making our government the enemy of it's people, much like the countries whose leaders we love to hate. No difference, no kidding.

I AM NOT A DRUG ADDICT. Stop treating me as such. “When you have your health, you have everything” is more than an axiom murmured at Thanksgiving when one is ill. It actually means something. And anyone working with sick people must be a little bit more responsive to their needs than a cashier at a grocery store. In a perfect world, everyone would be understanding. But those who treat people in pain must find it in their hearts to understand better than others.

Sherri Silesky
(205) 300.3131 cell
[email protected]

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