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'I am the other side of the opiate crisis'

"I am not an addict. I take pain medication to function at a minimal level. . . . It lets me feel normal for a short time every day. "

Lynn Frank, 64, of Northeast Philadelphia, a former records and information manager at a law firm, experienced a serious foot injury in a car accident 12 years ago and was later diagnosed with CRPS/RSD (Complex Regional Pain Syndrome/Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy), a chronic neuro-inflammatory disorder.

If you have had a similar reaction to opioid painkillers – they provided clear relief for pain but have become difficult to obtain due to actions intended to prevent addiction – and want to publicly share your story, please email staff reporter Don Sapatkin.

The opiate crisis is finally getting the recognition it should. It destroys families, increases crime, and causes heartbreak. People in all socioeconomic groups legally and illegally obtain and use these drugs.

I cry when I hear about deaths that should have never happened. I weep when babies are born addicted. I mourn when I read about families forever destroyed by the loss of a teenager or young adult.

But there is another side to this problem that you have not read about and may not have considered. My side.

I stand with other chronic pain sufferers off in the shadows. We have been forgotten. No research. No treatment. Now there are laws and a movement of public outcry condemning opioid use. Our pain medicine is being taken from us. We have been treated without compassion, humiliated, stripped of dignity. People don't understand that we are not abusers but simply seek temporary relief from our endless pain. We are always tired, often depressed, and feeling hopeless. We are just trying to overcome the obstacles our bodies have presented to us. We are made to feel shame because we need to use pain medicine to cope with everyday life.

I stand in the shadows, sit, and watch. I usually don't have the energy to do much more than lie in bed. Every movement can cause pain. Bright lights can bring on a headache; any touch to my skin can cause pain. I often keep to myself because my illness is not understood and I don't usually look ill. I'm told that I am a hypochondriac, drama queen, socially inept, not responsible for keeping commitments. People — especially those who are closest to me —  don't take the time to educate themselves and to understand my illness.

And so depression will often seep in, along with a decreasing sense of self worth. I am a mother and a grandmother. Having to take a urine test in order to get a one-month prescription of pain medicine that my doctor agrees I need is embarrassing. Having to visit the doctor every month in order to get that prescription takes away the little energy I have. Not being able to physically pick up my grandchildren — or have the energy to visit with them — is a defeat that means I have lost. Pain affects everything: thought, relationships, sleep … every aspect of my life.

Now I need to speak up. Will you hear me?

I am the other side of the opiate crisis. I am not an addict. I take pain medication to function at a minimal level and not allow my chronic pain get the better of me. It lets me feel normal for a short time every day. I never feel "high" from taking it, just almost "normal." It allows me to focus and to do simple tasks that I could not otherwise perform

There are other things chronic pain sufferers do to relieve pain. In an effort to distract ourselves we meditate, pray, and have hobbies such as knitting (my personal favorite) and reading. We do many things to take our minds off of our pain, We attempt to stay positive even when it feels impossible. A short relief from pain helps. Pain medicine helps us function, at least for a short time, in a way that most people take for granted.

Please acknowledge those of us who suffer from chronic pain. Recognize our need for these powerful medications. Understand that we are only trying to live our lives by managing the nonstop pain. We want to survive and overcome. We will.