Here’s a cautionary tale about prescription pain medication straight from a law school friend of mine. A number of years ago Chris was driving home from St. Louis. It was getting late and there wasn’t a radio station to be found. As the miles bled away, with not a car in sight, he reached into his dopp kit and opened up a pill bottle. Six months before he had had a knee injury. After he was back to playing soccer, he had decided to keep the prescription as a backup just in case the pain began to act up again (or another pain – in this case, boredom – became a problem).
An hour later with the highway lines intoxicatingly blurred he exited the highway a few blocks from his house. As he turned onto his residential street, he lost control of his car and crashed into a parked vintage 57 Chevy pickup truck.
Fortunately, this story does not have a tragic ending. No one was hurt. But Chris’ realization of what he had illegally done, which could have resulted in someone getting hurt or worse, was shocking and embarrassing enough that he tossed out the contents of the orange childproof bottle. But this is not often the case. In fact, I recently spotted a public service announcement from the back of a Denver, Colorado RTD bus telling us there are 35 prescription drug deaths every month in Colorado.
The prescription pain med conundrum
So who’s to blame? Certainly, in my friend’s case, he made a pretty bad decision. But what if we took a survey and asked, Why did you keep that prescription? Some might blame the pain: potentially long term and with few alternative options. Some might blame the doctor: “Well the doctor prescribed this, so it must be ok.” Some might blame the painkiller itself: “It’s appealing and I didn’t think a little would hurt me.”
Often it’s feeling that because of pain the future looks bleak, or could look bleak if there isn’t a pain medication backup plan. And isn’t that fear really what’s underlying why, initially, many people keep that pain medication or return to it? No one wants to suffer. No one wants to go through life feeling pain.
It’s thought provoking that sometimes simply believing that a procedure or medication will alleviate pain can be effective. There have been a number of studies that suggest a fake or sham knee surgery is as effective at reducing pain as the actual surgery, and there are studies that suggest that fake pain medications have similar beneficial effects.
Of course, no matter how effective a placebo is in many research settings, ultimately it’s a fickle friend. If a patient doesn’t believe it will work, it probably won’t.
It’s not surprising, though, that as people begin to realize how powerful thought is, they increasingly seek out alternative approaches to drugs – yoga, meditation, hypnosis, etc. – to find relief. A friend of mine from Colorado Springs took a spiritual approach, including prayer, when she faced pain from an injury.
Complete relief from pain from a shoulder injury
While exercising one day about a year ago, Melissa wrenched her shoulder. At first the pain was mild so she didn’t give it much thought. But by the next morning she could only move her arm a couple of inches in any direction without acute pain.
Like many people in her situation she was afraid of the unknown extent of her injury, how long the pain would last, and how long her shoulder might take to heal. Because Melissa was used to turning to God as “the most helpful solution to [her] problems,” she began to pray. She said her prayer was not a plea for help, but instead accepting that as she put it, “God is all-good and loves His entire creation unconditionally.” She communed with that idea and her own relationship with that goodness.
These ideas gave her comfort, and her mental state began to improve. The pain was still there, though, so she decided to call a friend to pray with her. One of the ideas they discussed was a line from a book by a Christian healer and author, Mary Baker Eddy, which states, “Mind is the source of all movement, and there is no inertia to retard or check its perpetual and harmonious action”. The Mind that is referred to in this quote is not a “human mind” as in “mind over matter” but instead another name/description for God.
As she came to understand and trust this idea – that her movement comes from a divine intelligence – the pain did lessen and she gained more movement in her arm. Within the week, not only did Melissa experience full relief from the pain, but her shoulder injury healed completely and she was able to return to her normal routine. She has not suffered any setback or reoccurrence of the pain or injury.
I’m not sure sharing Melissa’s story with my friend Chris way back in 1997 would have kept him from taking those pills on his drive home. But it might help others find permanent relief from pain – and the fear of pain – and avoid the temptation to get hooked on legal narcotics. It’s an effective solution worth considering amid today’s precipitous increase in prescription drug addictions and deaths.