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For F-cking Fentanyl

In these trying times there is so much we have to worry about every time we step out of our front door. But one of the places you should feel safe is at your doctor’s office. As many of you probably already know this is not the case.

My story of malpractice occurred in 2009 when I had the first migraine attack that I couldn’t break. As a person who had chronic migraine disease and did not know what that entailed, that day was incredible painful and scary. I was away in Philadelphia at the time, luckily not traveling alone, on a journey of torture that was just beginning. At that time in my life I had migraines in various degrees for several years already. But this was the first time I took pain pills that didn’t work. It would be about ten hours before I arrived home, ran into my bathroom, and sobbed for what seemed like hours. The next morning I went straight to my neurologist’s office hanging on by a thread. He examined me, made sure I wasn’t at risk for a stroke (a common problem for migraine patients who can’t break the pain of an attack), and prescribed some medication. I cried the whole way home as well as on my couch until my medication was delivered. I slapped on that pain patch with every fiber of my being and went to sleep.

I assumed I would be out for the count since I was worn out from not sleeping the night before and from the stress of the pain but I would have no such luck. I would jump up three hours later vomiting my brains out. I couldn’t comprehend what was happening to me. My poor dog who had been sleeping beneath me looked just as confused. After the third or fourth time I called the doctor. I was originally supposed to keep the pain patch on for three straight days but at that moment he told me to rip it off. Apparently I was having a strong reaction to that particular medication, fentanyl. This was only the beginning.

For the reminder of the week I was entirely useless. I managed to stop throwing up that night but what was worse was how weak I was. I couldn’t believe that the patch could keep me so sick even after taking it off. I can only guess how bad I would have been if it had stayed on.

This was also the week I began having what I call “the wobbles”. Essentially when I say that I mean I cannot walk a straight line. I often stumble or feel dizzy. It typically doesn’t last long but I do not know I have it until I stand up and then loose my balance. I still get the wobbles on a regular basis but that week was the first time I had ever experienced it. Now I believe it is just a part of my overall neurological disease so I deal with it. It actually is the easiest problem associated with my chronic migraine disease.

Overall it was about two weeks before I was ready to return to work as some semblance of my regular self. I will never EVER forget that experience. It is burned into my brain. Ironically one of the things my migraine brain didn’t manage to forget.

A few years after this time in my life I happen to relay this story to a friend. She said: “you must be mistaken about the name of the drug you took. That is drug reserved for cancer patients or those suffering from terminal illness”. My heart skipped a beat. The more I learn about fentanyl the more often my breath escapes me. It just proves to me what I already know now- that you and you only are your best advocate. No matter how unwell you are, you have to know what you are dealing with and never put anything into your body that can be toxic and not know it. Even my current doctor’s reaction to finding this out was shocking. I hope that my former doctor and others like him are now being forced out of their practices.

Recently I saw this commercial and it stopped me in my tracks. I re-winded it and re-watched it. I was stunned by the sadness and necessity of the information being shared.

I implore each of you to watch it:

As I discovered an accidental overdose is an easy accident waiting to happen.

For a clear, layman’s definition of what Fentanyl is I looked to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

According to them:

“Fentanyl is a synthetic (man-made) opioid that is 50x more potent than heroin and 100x more potent than morphine. There are two types of fentanyl: Pharmaceutical fentanyl, which is primarily prescribed to manage acute and chronic pain associated with advanced cancer. Non-pharmaceutical fentanyl, which is illegally made, and is often mixed   with heroin and/or cocaine—with or without the user’s knowledge—in order to increase the drug’s effect.

As illegally made fentanyl confiscations have increased, so have fentanyl-related overdose deaths. For example, in 2013, there were a total of 92 fentanyl-related unintentional overdose deaths in Ohio. In 2014, preliminary data show 514 fentanyl-related unintentional overdose deaths, almost a 500% increase.”

On the street fentanyl is known as “China White” according to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

When I first learned of the link between heroin and fentanyl I was appalled. I still can’t believe that this was a drug I had taken. It is just luck I didn’t get addicted to it and instead my body rejected it, which now makes much more sense. Just this small connection to this matter has made me be on high alert when reviewing materials online. I can’t stop thinking of how easily this problem developed nationwide.

This illness is not restricted to a particular region or class. When the autopsy report on Prince was released the cause of death was listed as a fentanyl overdose. When will we learn how precious life is and that we are a self-sabotaging society? We have lost so many talented people way too soon because of this opioid epidemic.

As a result of soaring numbers of these related deaths there has been the sharpest decline in doctor driven opioid prescriptions. In fact the current amount of prescriptions being written is the lowest rate it has been in the past twenty years. Doctor’s standards for these drugs are becoming stricter and stricter which I am afraid may harm those who really need it. In those cases I hope there is a shift to using drugs for pain that are less dangerous.

This past week Congress decided to follow along this trend. The House passed a bill that will hopefully pass in the Senate, and end up on the President’s desk later this week. The bill is providing additional money to help those already addicted as well as those who will be treated by first responders. The House version of this bill wants to set up a funding stream to prepare emergency workers how to treat patients they come in contact with to hopefully crack down on deadly overdoses of this kind. The Senate however, wants to leave it to the states to set up programs for treatment and prevention. Either way action needs to be taken. I am happy to see the government finally stepping in.

The moral of the story is that we each have to be our own doctor. What I have learned from my experience has lead me to change my doctor, stay current with the information on my illness, and never make an important medical decision without understanding the situation fully. I have had many more severe migraine attacks since that day back in 2009 but now I have a course of treatment to fall back on that won’t leave me worse off. I wish the same for each and every one of you.

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