Antioch woman said opioid treatment for chronic pain causes stigma

Opioid Prescribing Guidelines
Posted at 5:56 PM, May 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-13 12:25:23-04

ANTIOCH, Tenn. (WTVF) — An Antioch woman with health conditions that cause her pain said opioids are her only choice to manage them.

However, she said with the focus on the opioid epidemic, there's now a stigma around taking the only medication that helps her.

Life — for the past seven years — has been hard for Karen Widener.

The Antioch woman is battling mitochondrial degenerative disease she compares to arthritis.

There are medications to treat the pain associated.

"They've tried gabapentin, lyrica, cymbalta, tramadol and then when [one] doctor put me on celebrex [my heart physician] found out about it and said I'm not supposed to be taking any of that," said Widener.

She said the only medication that works for her chronic pain is Oxycodone.

"Sometimes it's not so bad, other times it's like somebody is sticking a knife in between my joints and twisting it," she said.

She takes three pills each day.

But, with so much talk about the opioid epidemic and the number of people who are dying from an overdose, she's noticed there's now a stigma for people like her, too.

She sees it at the doctor's office.

"They think that I'm here to get more pain pills," said Widener. "I'm not. I want to know what's wrong. What's causing this new pain. Once they know that you're on it, they assume that's what you're there for."

Widener admitted, that after all this time on opioids, she's dependent.

Her situation is not all that uncommon.

According to those with Vanderbilt University Medical Center, there's a difference between dependence and addiction.

"When you develop an addiction you have a craving, you are misusing the drug outside of its intended purpose, and you experience consequences from it, whether that be social problems, losing your job, not being able to fulfill your responsibilities at home, seeking that drug illicitly," said Dr. Rebecca Donald, assistant professor of Anesthesia and Pain Medicine at VUMC.

Dr. Donald said treating people with opioids is a balancing act.

"Pain is a universal condition," said Dr. Donald. "We will all suffer from pain at some point in our lives. We have multiple tools in our arsenal, opioids being one of them. Like any medication, you have to weigh the benefits and the risks of the drug."

Widener said she would love to be off of Oxycodone, but with no other alternative, it's what she has to do to function.

"My life shouldn't be that way," she said.

Dr. Donald said people who believe their opioid dependence has turned to addiction should contact their doctors for help.

She also said only about 10% to 30% of people seek treatment.