Some years back, I had my share of experiences with the merry-go-round – or should I say, run around – of seeking pain solutions. Not only was this prior to solving the Case of the Missing Zzzzs, but following a car accident and nagging injury. It’s not surprising that I was intrigued by a recent article on profiting from pain.
While I have seen plenty of doctors pass the buck when it comes to pushing patients through the “system,” I certainly know others who are caught between a rock and a hard place – or several.
Sometimes we are part of that problematic situation, wanting immediate answers and a quick fix.
Even when the better long-term solution is in fact, well… relatively long in duration! At least, in comparison to popping a prescribed pain pill!
But is wanting that pain med just a matter of our impatience, convenience, or lack of discipline to persevere through behavioral changes that might assist in the long run?
“Profiting from Pain,”The New York Times article I cite, offers startling statistics on the use of pain meds to treat all sorts of (ongoing) conditions including
… Back injuries, headaches, arthritis and conditions like fibromyalgia…
I have lived with chronic pain and understand the desperation one can feel when there seems no end in sight. Any fix at all can seem vital when you’re at the end of your rope, and a pain pill is certainly faster, easier, and seemingly cheaper than time consuming alternatives that might deal with the source of pain rather than manage it.
Then again, “dealing” with it may only allow for managing it.
Pills vs Programs
The article references a 110% increase in sales of opioids between 2001 and 2012, and reports that
Narcotic painkillers are now the most widely prescribed class of medications in the United States, and prescriptions for the strongest opioids… have increased nearly four-fold over the past decade.
Incidentally, opioid prescriptions numbered 240.9 million in 2012. If we figure 150 million adults in the U.S. that’s more than one for each of us!
A cost comparison is offered – pain meds as short-term fix versus alternative “treatments” – and here is where I raise my eyebrow and start to grumble.
Patchwork of Progress and Providers
Meds seem less expensive because they may be covered by insurance, at least in part, and they’re accessible (at times, too much so, as the Times references the dirth of “pain clinics” pushing pills).
I will cite another amount referenced: $20,000 to $32,000 for a four to six week in-patient stay at a private treatment facility to get off addictive painkillers and other substances (a Minnesota facility was used as example).
Hello? Did someone say “profit?”
Pain Pill Alternatives?
Setting aside the obviously prohibitive expense of these programs, what about alternatives like physical therapy or therapeutic massage? What if they aren’t available? What about the fact that some providers won’t cover these options, or, as was my case for physical therapy, the time frame was insufficient and my out-of-pocket costs untenable to actually solve the originating problem? What of the differences in insurance, or those suffering pain without insurance coverage?
Insurance handling for these alternatives doesn’t even rate a mention in the article.
What about time off work to pursue alternatives if you don’t have short term or long term disability? If the result is significant lost wages or even a lost job? Not even a mention.
Health as a human right – never a mention.
Who wouldn’t take the pain pill and try to keep going?
Concerning… And Complex
Do check out the article. The stats are staggering when you look at pills, burgeoning businesses profiting through related services, and workers’ compensation costs long-term.
Yet in these billions of dollars and hundreds of millions of prescriptions, we lose sight of the patient and his or her family. Longer term treatments may not be viable from a practical (cost or logistical) viewpoint.
Of course, the Times article’s title says it all: “Profiting” from pain. We live on a country where health is not a human right – ever glance at right to health in the European Social Charter? – but perhaps the pursuit of profit is…
I’ve been there. In chronic pain. And even with insurance, stuck like the hamster on a wheel, spinning through the “system” with only common OTC solutions to get me through the day.
It’s a lousy way to feel – and a nowhere result when you play by the rules until you’re out of funds or time or both. And with a family dependent on your being a provider? You do what you can, right? Taking a temporary fix – for the long-term?
How do we factor the complexity of these considerations into the numbers?
When do we open our eyes?