Fibromyalgia and Prescription Drug Addiction Myths and Realities
Prescription pain medicine addiction plagues many people behind closed doors. But although widespread, addiction to prescription painkillers is also widely misunderstood. Those misunderstandings can be dangerous and frightening for fibromyalgia patients dealing with pain.
Where is the line between appropriate use and addiction to prescription pain medicines? And how can patients stay on the right side of that line, without suffering needlessly? There are certain identified myths about addiction to prescription pain medication:
Myth: It’s better to bear the pain than to risk addiction.
Reality: Under-treating pain can cause needless suffering. If you have pain, talk to your doctor about it, and if you’re afraid about addiction, talk with them about that, too. People have a right to have their pain addressed. When someone’s in pain, there’s no risk-free option, including doing nothing. Some people suffer pain because they fear addiction, while others are too casual about using painkillers. Fibromyalgia patients should not be afraid of taking a medication that they need. However, physicians do want people to take these drugs seriously.
Myth: All that matters is easing my pain.
Reality: Pain relief is key, but it’s not the only goal. The focus should be on functional restoration when physicians prescribe analgesics or any intervention to control the patient’s pain. Functional restoration means being autonomous, being able to attend to their activities of daily living, as well as forming friendships and an appropriate social environment. In other words, pain relief isn’t enough. If the fibromyalgia patient is faced with a situation where the physician continues to increase the doses and the patient isn’t getting any functional improvement, the prescribing physician should change the treatment plan.
Myth: I’m a strong person. I won’t get addicted.
Reality: Addiction isn’t about willpower, and it’s not a moral failure. It’s a chronic disease, and some people are genetically more vulnerable than others. The main risk factor for addiction is genetic predisposition. Do you have a family history of alcohol or addiction? Or do you have a history yourself and now you’re in recovery from that? That genetic history would potentially place you at higher risk of addiction for any substance, and in particular, you should be careful using the opioids for any length of time. Exactly how many people are addicted to prescription painkillers isn’t clear. But 1.7 million people age 12 and older in the U.S. abused or were addicted to pain relievers in 2007, according to government data. And in a 2007 government survey, about 57% of people who reported taking pain relievers for non-medical uses in the previous month said they’d gotten pain pills for free from someone they knew; only 18% said they’d gotten it from a doctor. Don’t share prescription pain pills and don’t leave them somewhere that people could help themselves.
Myth: My doctor will steer me clear of addiction.
Reality: Doctors certainly don’t want their patients to get addicted. But they may not have much training in addiction, or in pain management. Unfortunately, most doctors don’t get much training in either topic. We’ve got a naive physician population providing pain care and not knowing much about addiction. That’s a bad combination. Fibromyalgia patients should educate themselves about their prescriptions and work with their doctors to find the best treatment plan.