PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — People who use opioids every day in Hampton Roads as part of pain management say there’s more to opioids than crime, deadly synthetic drugs and lives cut short.
An area woman says she’s been taking Percocet and muscle relaxers to overcome ongoing pain from back surgeries, rheumatoid arthritis and other conditions.
“Both of my discs were blown out. In fact the neurosurgeon said I had the biggest herniations he had ever seen,” she said. “It’s a fight just to get out of bed and try to live a semi-normal life.”
We’re calling this woman Rose. Her pain medication is prescribed by a doctor, whom she has to see every 30 days.
“My pill count every month is on point, my drug screens come back clear as they’re supposed to.”
But even with a doctor’s prescription, Rose faces stigma in places you might not expect.
“A lot of us are being treated as drug-seeking addicts when we’re not. When we go to fill our prescriptions there’s still this stigma, even from pharmacists.”
Rose says the stigma extends to the workplace when employers assume that people on pain management will automatically be a risk.
“(Employers will think) if you’re snowed under high amounts of pain medication then you can’t do your job. I have a lot of friends online who are also chronic pain patients, who have been very unfortunate, who have lost their jobs and haven’t been able to get jobs. It’s very disheartening.”
Old Dominion University Economist Robert McNab told the Hampton Roads Opioid Working Group in September that anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000 people in the region have left the job market because of addiction.
Rose doesn’t want to reveal her identity because she’s not only living in pain, she’s living in fear. Percocet pills fetch $10 each or more on the street.
“People get robbed for their pain medication. (When they’re) leaving your average Rite Aid, Walgreens or whatever, when they know that people have a count of like 180 pills. It’s quite a bit of money. You can turn around and sell that on the street.
Rose says she’s been approached by someone who was willing to buy her pills, but didn’t make the sale.
“It was somebody I worked with and honestly it’s not a route I want to go down. I need my pain medication. It’s also illegal. I kind of like staying out of jail.”
Rose says because serious medicine must be handled seriously, at home she keeps her pills in a safe.
“I can’t have family members going in and taking medication, and I also have a young child and I wouldn’t want her to have access to that medication.”
While some people who start with legal prescriptions end up moving on to more powerful street drugs, Rose says that doesn’t have to happen.
“As far as them staying on the pain medication and then transitioning to heroin, that’s a choice that that person made.”
For that reason, Rose does not fall in line with the widespread criticism of drug makers such as Purdue Pharma, who are named in thousands of lawsuits for causing the opioid crisis.
“I tend to disagree. I don’t believe that that was the intent of the Big Pharma all the way around. I do believe that there has been over-prescribing of medications. Chronic pain patients – we’re not drug addicts.”