Chronic Pain, Shame, & Being Dependent (Not Addicted) to Opioids

I started taking opioid painkillers not long after my third and last child was born. Despite having had nearly four dozen broken bones in childhood due to a genetic bone disorder (osteogenesis imperfecta or OI), I struggled little with pain or functional limitations in my young adulthood. I limped and tired easily, but every day I climbed up and down stairs, cleaned and cooked, walked with a baby or two in a stroller to do errands, and cared for my young children without any more severe consequence than sore muscles and joints at bedtime.

But around the time my son was born, things started, literally, to fall apart. Eight months pregnant, I sustained a meniscal tear in my left knee that would ultimately be surgically repaired twice but never really fixed. Today, at 47 years old, I have no cartilage left in either knee; sometimes when I change position, the joints emit an audible crunch. A stress fracture in my femur has bothered me on and off for a year. My orthopedist reports that the balls of my hip joints are embedding themselves in the too-soft bone of my pelvic sockets. My right wrist aches and throbs at night, particularly if I did a lot of writing or housecleaning that day.

…While opioids may not be the right treatment for all, or even most, chronic pain patients, these medications work well for me with few side effects. The simple fact that I’ve found an effective treatment allowing me to live an active life with significant disability, however, is obscured by the controversy, fear, stigma and caution that surround opioid prescribing.

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About Ellen Painter Dollar

Ellen Painter Dollar is a writer focusing on faith, parenting, family, disability, and ethics. She is the author of No Easy Choice: A Story of Disability, Faith, and Parenthood in an Age of Advanced Reproduction (Westminster John Knox, 2012). Visit her web site at http://ellenpainterdollar.com for more on her writing and speaking, and to sign up for a (very) occasional email newsletter.