The past six-month period has been one of the worst for us that I can recall in years in terms of the number of friends who have suffered, some of whom have died. All this suffering that I’ve witnessed has brought home to me a tremendous short-coming in our modern medical system or structure. It’s simple enough. In prolonging life, especially in treating some forms of cancer, in saving wounded soldiers and victims of accidents who surely would have died in earlier times, in fact as recently as a decade or two ago, we have created a massive problem and source of suffering – a huge increase in people suffering agonizing pain.
So many forms of medical treatment can now keep people alive, but at the cost of continual pain. According to the National Institutes of Health, 17% of all Americans suffer severe pain intermittently, and 65% of those – 11% of the U.S. population – suffer daily, chronic, and severe pain. Yet while we have relatively effective forms of pain control for mild pain, the only substances currently effective for severe pain are opioid-based, and the problem with these is that with continued use, they become both addictive and less and less effective. So those in pain take more and more, and often mix those painkillers with alcohol, just so they can dull the pain and sleep, which is another reason why there are so many deaths as the result of combining alcohol and painkillers.
Yet this problem is scarcely recognized by most people. Nor is there any real recognition of why this pain problem has occurred. I certainly didn’t grasp its magnitude until recently, when more and more people I know ended up with excruciating pain. Instead, there’s an incredible push to stop the “overuse” and “abuse” of opioid painkillers. In my home state of Utah, the LDS Church effectively blocked even a modest piece of legislation that would have allowed the medical use of cannabis products and extracts [all specified as non-hallucinogenic]. The upshot of all these efforts appears to be that even terminally ill people are often being denied painkillers adequate to mitigate their suffering, but if they’re terminally ill, why worry about whether they’ll become addicted?
I’ve seen reports on promising new developments in non-addictive and non-hallucinogenic painkillers, but it will be years before any of them are widely available. In the meantime, what are we going to do for the more than 25 million Americans dealing with severe pain on an on-going basis? [And, no, I’m thankfully not one of them.]
Just tell them to hold on because we don’t want them addicted to opioids or marijuana?