Longing for a difference: Super Bowl Ad and Opioid Addiction Insanity

A little over a week ago, this ad ran during the Super Bowl

It deals with opioid -induced constipation and is, in my opinion, both discreet and direct, as well as very, very charming. It’s a very subtle ad for a medication that might help, but it is also much more than that, sending a message that people who take opioids are out there in the world among us, normal people living normal lives. And it’s created in partnership with a number of excellent organizations, such as CreakyJoints, For Grace, US Pain Foundation, American Chronic Pain Association and The Power of Pain.

Immediately, lots of people made a joke about this being an ad for constipated junkies, Bill Maher among them. But it didn’t stop there. Others were outraged, including the White House Chief of Staff, who tweeted “next year, how about fewer ads that fuel opioid addiction and more on access to treatment.”



The very first words in the ad are “if you need an opioid to manage your chronic pain.” The fact that the reactions are so incredibly off the mark makes me worry whether this is the tipping point. Has the War on Drugs now officially succeeded in equating opioid use with addiction, to the point of that people are (wilfully) closing their eyes to the very legitimate role opioids play in the management of severe chronic pain? How else could an intelligent person like the White House Chief of Staff claim that this little ad fuels opioid addiction? I’m still stuck how on earth that could possibly be the case, but will move on to something else. Namely the issue of access to treatment.

I don’t mean the kind of treatment that Mr. McDonough mentioned. I mean the treatment of chronic pain, which is getting harder and harder to get. Because chronic severe pain often requires opioids. Due to the government cracking down on the “peddlers” of the drugs (i.e., doctors), it is becoming much harder for them to write the prescriptions without being scrutinized in an extremely obstructive way. It’s also getting much more difficult for the “junkies” (i.e., the people living with chronic pain) to fill their prescription. In New York, it is now against the law for pharmacists to stock more than a certain amount of any opioids, which mean that they may not be able to fill prescriptions.

The people who suffer in all of this are the people who live with chronic pain. I don’t often use the term ‘suffer,’ but in this case I mean it. Having the kind of chronic pain that requires treatment by opioids,  and not being able to get it treated, is tantamount to being tortured. And that’s what happens day after day, all over the US and Canada, where millions live with high levels of chronic pain. With these increasing restrictions, based on scaremongering, we are held prisoner by the War on Drugs.

Unfortunately, the Geneva Convention doesn’t apply to us, and thus, the torture continues, while the world and men like Maher and McDonough look down on us as junkies, all the time perpetuating the stereotype that opioids = addiction.

But it doesn’t. A large meta study showed that when prescribed and taken correctly, taking opioids result in addiction in a quarter of one percent. (1) When you add people who have previously been addicted to the sample being studied, that number increases to a whopping 3.3 percent. (2)

That means more than 97 percent of those receiving a correct prescription and, likely, education in how to take the medication correctly, do not get addicted.

So where is the opioid crisis coming from? I suspect a lack of education, both of doctors and patients. Most doctors don’t know the intricacies of pain management techniques, nor do they have the time or the resources to properly educate their patients. Additionally, the people who are not getting the prescriptions that they need may seek the pills elsewhere — because remember about the torture — and, not receiving the supervision of a doctor, may take them in a way that could lead to addiction.

Maybe if a fraction of the money spent on the War on Opioids were to be spent on education materials, the rate of addiction would go down. Instead, they blindly restrict and compassion flies out the window. Dan Malito has a theory that we are on the way to banning narcotic medications entirely, and I think he might be onto something.

The ad that started this rant ends with the suggestion that if the viewer is longing for a difference, they should check out the website.

I am longing for a difference. As are so many of my peers who rely on opioids to achieve a basic quality of life. Because that’s what it is about for us. These drugs make the difference between being housebound, maybe bedbound and perhaps suicidal, and being able to live our lives, to be there for our families, to work, to contribute, to laugh.

We are your friends, your family, your neighbours, and your colleagues. And we need your help. Alone, we cannot fight this tide of crazy.

Help us turn the tide.


Adrienne said…
I read somewhere recently that something like 5% of doctors prescribe 70% of opiates- those weren't the numbers, but it was a small % prescribing a large %. What this means is, 95% of doctors are prescribing them appropriately or not at all. 5% are prescribing them, basically, to get rich off of addicts. They're running the "pill mills" that front as pain clinics but aren't. They're the cause of the increasing overdose deaths and addiction. And instead of cracking down on those who prescribe inappropriately, the govt will crack down on everyone, including those who use opiates in appropriate ways, because that's how they do it. (at least in the U.S.)
Anonymous said…
Lene: Thank you so much for this wonderful post. The comments you mention in your post, along with the tidal wave of others, are reprehensible actions by people who think it's amusing to mock other people's pain. I don't know that I would wish chronic pain on these idiots (or anyone else), but I do wish they could live a day in the life of someone who has to endure the type of painful torture that can come from a never-ending chronic condition. Maybe it would bring some much-needed enlightenment or at least a little common courtesy.
Chris said…
I recently changed doctors. In my search, I can't tell you how many times I was told I needed to quit taking the pain medication my previous doctor ordered for me. Finally I found a doctor who agreed with my previous provider. WHY DO WE HAVE TO SUFFER IN PAIN when there are drugs that actually help?
Anonymous said…
Thank you for writing this article and publicly acknowledging that severe chronic pain exists for many people. The pain is intense, like a continual torture. It clouds your mind because it takes so much brain power to cope. It doesn't end like child birth; the knowledge that the pain will continue day after day FOREVER makes sufferers question why go on like this. Law makers lack empathy cuz they haven't endured the 24/7 suffering. After 3 years I finally have appropriate pain management with opoid narcotics. I still have pain daily, but I will not go back to the suffering I experienced. Sadly lawmakers could have control of my medical care. They would see a rise in suicide if pain control were outlawed.
lee woo said…
Find a place inside where there's joy, and the joy will burn out the pain. See the link below for more info.

disabled mom said…
Please sign and distribute!

We want Premier Christy Clark and Minister Michelle Stilwell to raise the rates and leave our bus pass alone!

Bring back the $45 per year bus pass for people with disabilities.
Eliminate the new $52/month bus pass fee.
Let everyone receiving PWD benefits keep the $77/month increase.
Raise the PWD benefit rate to $1200 per month by October 1, 2016 to reflect the cost of living.

On February 16, 2016, the Province of BC tabled its budget.
People with disabilities received a small increase to their disability benefits but there was a catch. The $77 per month increase was tied to the cost of a person's transportation. These are the changes, effective September 1st, 2016:
People with disabilities will receive a $77 per month increase to their benefits.
People receiving PWD benefits will no longer be able to purchase an annual bus pass for a $45 annual fee.
The cost of the bus pass will go up from $0 to $52 per month, plus an annual $45 administration fee.
For people with a bus pass, the new change means a $25/month PWD benefit rate increase. After a nine-year rate freeze, this is an insult.
Why we need a rate increase:

Having increased by only $120 since 2001, BC disability benefit rates of $906/month are among the lowest in the country; yet we live in one of the most expensive provinces. People with disabilities struggle with impossible pressures, including whether to get a bit of extra money to buy food or take the bus. We are falling behind and desperately need a rate increase that reflects the cost of living in BC.

As our provincial government tabled its budget, it touted BC as having the best financial outlook in the country. The government was finally in a position to announce an increase in benefits to catch up to the rapidly rising cost of living.

To finally give people an increase only to claw it back for something as essential as transportation is mean-spirited and out-of-touch.
Read our report, Overdue: the case for increasing the persons with disabilities benefit in BC

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