I am married to a wanted criminal and the Drug Enforcement Administration is hot on her trail!
Her crime? She suffers with chronic, debilitating pain and has to take powerful painkillers just to make it through the day.
Mind you, my wife Beth is not your typical hardened criminal. She is wonderfully compassionate, trustworthy and has a strong sense of justice. She doesn’t beat people up or rob them. And in all the years I’ve known her, I have never once seen her take drugs to get “high.” And yet she is routinely treated like a felon, or at the very least like a suspect, not only by the government but also by Nashville-area doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other medical professionals.
Here’s the sort of thing Beth and many other people who suffer with chronic pain experience. Beth was taking oxycontin (oxycodone) and through no fault of her own became addicted to it. Her doctor recommended that she switch to another type of painkiller: a skin patch that releases a steady stream of medicine on a time-release basis. This patch does not give Beth a “rush.” It just helps her function without experiencing excruciating pain every time she moves.
However, the DEA seems to think that anyone who uses such patches must be another Osama bin Laden. So there are all sorts of intensely picky regulations about the patches, which leave Beth vulnerable to pain because the patches are far from perfect. For instance, some of the patches are hard to apply and won’t stay flush with Beth’s skin, making the release of the medicine problematic. And sometimes the patches fall off, due to perspiration on hot days or after steamy showers.
If anything goes wrong with one of the patches, Beth is in for a world of hurt because the DEA makes it difficult or impossible for her to get a replacement patch without jumping through regulatory hoops. This takes time and sometimes proves impossible before the pain strikes in unrelenting waves.
Compounding the problem, if Beth complains to a doctor, nurse or pharmacist about her pain and problems she experiences with her medicine, she is likely to receive a look that says, “Dear Lord, why do I have to deal with another junkie?”
Now I am well aware that there are some people who will say or do just about anything to get high. But why should Beth be judged by people who don’t know her, because of what other people do?
I think the problem is similar to that of women who are raped, when men who have never been raped assume that they are somehow responsible for their own suffering. I once had terrible back pain — so bad that I could barely move one foot an inch in front of the other. I can remember my pain when I hear Beth gasping with hers, and it infuriates me that people who have no idea how much she hurts have the audacity to judge her just because other people take drugs to get high.
As Ron Paul and other politicians with brains (seemingly, the minority) have pointed out, the DEA’s so-called “War on Drugs” has been an abysmal failure. Anyone who wants to get high can find a way to obtain drugs — whether from a pusher, or a pill mill, or some unscrupulous doctor. But if someone like Beth tries to avoid breaking the law because she doesn’t want to jeopardize her family, she sometimes has to pay a very high price, in debilitating pain.
Thanks to nonsensical drug laws we spend exorbitant sums of money to keep hundreds of thousands of drug users in prison at the taxpayer’s expense, while law-abiding citizens like Beth can’t get the medicine they need when they need it, and end up being treated like criminals when they try to buy drugs legally but run out for unpredictable reasons.
It’s an unfair, broken system and it’s past time to fix it.
Michael R. Burch is a Nashville-based editor and publisher of Holocaust poetry and other “things literary” at www.thehypertexts.com.