Ope Springs Eternal

I had a call from a doctor conducting a study of Veterans Hospital patients who had been prescribed “opioids” for pain. Two years ago, after some major surgery to my digestive tract, I got a big bottle of oxycodone, which is a tiny pill that kills pain like magic. It mimics the effects of heroin and is every bit as addictive. The researcher wanted to know who had prescribed the drug and how much warning I’d received about the risks. I didn’t have much to offer in the way of details. I’d spent a month in intensive care with 20 different nurses and a dozen doctors, and they all merged together. I’m sure somebody told me about the risks of the pills, but I already knew about addiction, which I’ve seen at pretty close quarters. 

The interview, which was recorded, went on for about 15 minutes with questions probing how much I knew about opioids and what I might recommend in the way of precautions, counseling, intervention and other possible means of reducing risk. I told her she might want to consider calling the drugs “narcotics,” which they are, instead of “opioids,” which might not be so readily recognized as addictive. I suppose that’s just what the drug-dealers intended, to disguise the addictive potential of the drugs our doctors are giving us.

I was a little surprised that in 15 minutes my interviewer never asked about the euphoric effects of the drug I’d taken. Did she think I hadn’t noticed that two pills not only relieve your pain but also get you high? Take two more in two hours and double your pleasure. No VA doctor or nurse ever talked to me about that, and this researcher seemed to be censoring it out of our conversation. I suggested that patients probably ought to get at least this warning: “If you want to get high, don’t use this. Use something else. Unless you’re dying, in which case addiction’s not a worry.”

Instead of probing that subject any further, my interviewer veered off to ask the question that made her regret she’d called me. “Is there anything we haven’t talked about that relates to your experience with opioids?”

“Duh! Cannabis! Ever hear of it? Legal in my state, but not for VA patiens. It’s a pain killer. It’s a euphoriant. It’s not habit-forming. In fact, it cures addiction in many cases. Doctors and nurses won’t even talk about it, even though most of you use it.”

She stammered out a few expressions of surprise. I asked her directly if she used cannabis. No answer. Totally discredited. So be on the lookout for a study of veterans prescribed “opioids.” Whatever they tell you, stay skeptical.

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