Give Me Opiates Or…by Miriam Sagan

I take an opiate every day. Am I an addict? Could be. Do I care? Not at all.

Let me backtrack. I’ve been in chronic pain for over forty years, since surgery that saved my life but failed to save both my lungs or the right side of my body. A good physician told me that after years of pain, it gets harder to handle. The mind/brain can’t manage it as well. I also think the accrued years—plus the natural process of aging—makes endurance more difficult.

I take tramadol. Before Reagan’s war on drugs, it was classified as an analgesic. Now, a class four drug. The drug hasn’t changed, though, just its legal status. I also take ibuprofen.

Ok, you New Agers. I get rolphed, do PT, exercise for 90 minutes every day, and take hot baths with salt. I meditate, I do progressive relaxation. You know what else? I complain, sometimes I sob, I gimp around. I limp, I nag my husband to massage me, and I curse.

And I hike. A glorious walk around the beaver ponds on Upper Canyon—a pleasant stroll for my friend, Mt. Everest for me, but so worth it.

And I collapse. I sleep much more than most people. My bed is my friend. Sleep resets my pain clock. I can start again.

The war on drugs brought us the current prison population, and untold suffering for minor crimes. It brought us the illegal market that now trades in opiates. It brought us narco-terrorism. A failure by all my counts. Not unlike Prohibition.

I would never underestimate the suffering of addiction. I’ve known junkies and I’ve been to 12-step meetings. I was a drug and suicide hotline counselor. Although frankly the substance that I’ve seen cause the most destruction is alcohol.

Here is what doesn’t help me. Muscle relaxants. Homeopathy. Acupuncture. I’m open to experimentation, and no doubt always will be. Right now I’m trying osteopathy, which I like.

It’s muscular skeletal pain. Which tramadol is designed for. Tramadol has made the last five years far pleasanter. I’ve had a full time job for part of that. I can sit through an opera. I’ve driven cross country. These things are less possible—even impossible—without it.

Without at least ibuprofen, I don’t think my life would mean much to me. I live in a state where physician assisted suicide is illegal. And yet I know I’m not the only person in pain who thinks of this from time to time. I live in a state where tramadol is a controlled substance requiring frequent prescription renewals and drug testing. The only silver lining is that this regime keeps me in touch with my internist.

Because let’s admit it—I have a doctor I trust. She’ll give me an honest answer if I ask if the tramadol is dangerous, or of the PT is doing any good. Ongoing medical care is the difference between lonely addiction and an actual approach.

I’m no authority on addiction. But I do know that many of us are addicted to various substances—including caffeine (which isn’t that easy to kick—as I know—having detoxed several times). Coffee and tramadol help me get through a day that includes political activism, creativity, friends, family, and just the housekeeping of life.

I don’t like Big Pharma, but I find the attack on it hypocritical. Unless you are living a monk’s life or off the grid, you are consuming in a corrupt capitalist culture. I don’t drink water that comes in plastic and I try to wear Fair Trade clothes, but I have a host of imperfect habits. Let’s just say I’m not giving up my anti-inflammatories for political correctness.

For a long time my personal goal was to be able to cook dinner after a 4-5 hour work day. If that isn’t your reality, I don’t feel you are in a position to judge or regulate me. Or make it less possible for me to live.