Recently Attorney General Jeff Sessions gave Americans suffering severe pain some advice: “People need to take some aspirin sometimes and tough it out a little.”
As someone who has suffered chronic pain for over 20 years, his remarks make me very angry.
Sessions was responding to the opioid epidemic. I agree that something must be done. I lost my brother to an opioid overdose nine years ago. I miss him every day.
But I also use prescription opioids responsibly myself, and I rely on them to help control my pain.
Imagine severe, throbbing head pain — combined with nausea, vomiting, and visual disturbances. Light and sound hurt your head, so you are in a dark room. If you can fall asleep, great. Sleeping can make migraines go away sometimes.
But sometimes you aren’t tired, or it hurts too much, and you just lay there hurting.
Now imagine doing this several times a week, every week, for over 20 years. That’s my life.
“Tough it out” is what you do when the pain is temporary and when there’s an end to it. It’s what you do when the pain isn’t too severe.
But what if the pain is severe, and nothing makes it better, and there is no end in sight When it hurts that much, every single day, there’s no more joy in life. There’s only pain.
Fortunately, I’ve found two drugs that work. Just two: Oxycodone and marijuana. And apparently Jeff Sessions thinks I shouldn’t take either of them.
Medical marijuana is obviously the better of the two. It’s less addictive and it won’t kill you.
Gaining access to legal medical marijuana has changed my life. It’s also helped me drastically cut down on opioid use.
I’ve taken Oxycodone regularly and responsibly for the last decade. I make sure to take it seldom enough that I don’t develop a tolerance for it, and I never increase my dose. I try to take it once every two months, and I will not under any circumstances take it more than once a week.
I reserve Oxycodone for the most severe pain. It’s such a relief to have an option that will treat my worst migraines. I “tough out” the less severe ones, including the one I have right now.
Why do I use these two controversial drugs instead of something else? Because literally nothing else works. I’ve tried about 20 different over the counter and prescription medications, herbs, meditation, acupuncture, and even Botox injections.
Nothing. Else. Works.
Not everyone can take opioids safely. My brother couldn’t. He was my best friend and my only sibling. We need to do something about opioid addiction in this country.
More broadly, we desperately need universal health care — including mental health care.
In the end, it was mental health care that my brother and I both needed — him for his addiction, me for my migraines, and both of us for trauma and anxiety.
I’ve finally found a wonderful mental health therapist and I’m making progress in healing my trauma. My migraines seem slightly less severe. But the therapy costs thousands of dollars a year, and so many people don’t have thousands of dollars a year. Especially people whose ability to work is limited by illness.
While we work toward a better mental health care system, those of us who suffer chronic pain need to be able to access the drugs that help us stop hurting. For those who can use them responsibly, opioids and medical marijuana are truly lifelines.
OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of “Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It.”