Chronic Pain Rights & Responsibilities

Laughing, Loving, and Living With Chronic Pain and Illness

Dear America, Here’s What You Missed in CNN’s Town Hall

Dear Anderson Cooper & CNN Your “Prescription Addiction” Town Hall was so disappointedly one-sided.

Dear CNN and Anderson Cooper,

I am contacting you because as a former professor of Communication Arts, Writer and Filmmaker, I rely on CNN to be the network where “…the reporters, producers, editors and writers at CNN aim for comprehensive journalism. In their news coverage, they strive to present the whole story, fairly and completely, so that readers and viewers may come to their own conclusions. And in their presentation of opinion and analysis, they strive to represent a range of viewpoints…

Comprehensive journalism also means that we do not let our financial interests determine the topics we cover. Our reporters, producers, writers and editors cover issues that are newsworthy and of interest to our readers and viewers, not because an issue may be of interest to advertisers,” as Time Warner’s Statement of Journalistic Integrity claims that CNN does. As a long time chronic pain patient, patient advocate, pain writer/researcher, regular Columnist at, and Delegate to International Pain Foundation, I am one of ONE HUNDRED MILLION pain patients whose voices are being completely left out of this narrative. Out of these 100 million, many of us need access to opioid pain medications in order to function on a daily basis. Not because we’re addicted, but because we have legitimate, ’round-the-clock treatment needs, for our moderate to severe pain.

I am contacted daily by patients who are absolutely desperate because they cannot obtain proper pain treatment, or because their meds have been so severely cut or completely withdrawn, because their doctors (even pain doctors) “Are afraid they’ll lose their licenses,” and they can no longer function. I am one of the many who need a level of morphine equivalent, which is much higher than the CDC’s “Recommended Daily Morphine Equivalent Dosage.” I and many of these patients (NOT addicts) see two options if we cannot get the necessary medications—seek relief in the form of street drugs, or commit suicide. It is that simple.

It is abundantly clear that the opioid witch-hunt is quickly snowballing into the new American genocide for those of us who rely on opioid pain medication to have any quality of life, whatsoever. I am not ignoring the problem this country has with addiction, but pain and addiction are two separate issues, and must be treated with two very separate approaches. I am not pushing opioids, just a patient’s right to utilize them to their fullest extent of effectiveness, and I’m an advocate of the doctor/patient decision-making process, over the governmental, media, and special anti-opioid interest groups deciding what patients’ treatment should or should not be.

As for the “recommended therapies,” exercise, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, etc., and the “Preferred treatments,” NSAIDs, Tylenol, Neurontin, etc. These are all things every one of us has tried, and wouldn’t need opioids if they worked as singular treatment. Most of us still use some of them…in conjunction with opioids. Because as almost any doctor will tell you, chronic pain is complicated, and best treated with a multimodal approach. Without the opioids, we cannot get out of bed to do or take the adjunct therapies. There is some uncertainty as to the efficacy of opioids for long-term chronic non-cancer pain. However, there is absolutely no proof that they are ineffective, and if you ask any one of us who has been on them for a long time, and still take them, it’s because we NEED them, and they work for us. They make our lives a bearable place. Believe me when I say, NO ONE would go through the stigma, shame, and discrimination that we do if they didn’t have to.

Additionally, there IS plenty of research that shows many of these other medications to be far worse in side effects and long-term effects than opioids. Also, there is a distinct difference between addiction and dependence, and the media, government, and medical community has completely overlooked this essential difference in diagnosis. Dependence occurs with many medications which are prescribed prolifically, like SSRI’s, anticonvulsants (like Lyrica and Neurontin), even life-saving medications like insulin cause physical dependence. Chronic pain patients are shown to be highly unlikely to become addicted to opioids, and in fact do not experience the euphoria that addicts crave. They simply experience some degree of relief.

I have spoken out loudly and frequently–in articles I’ve written, comments I’ve made to the CDC, letters to government officials, and so on, only to continue to watch as my pain support system, my doctors, my government, my media all shut me out of my own critical life decisions. It is terrifying how quickly this non-epidemic (compared to other causes of death-Between 1999 and 2014 over 8,000,000 died from the use/abuse of Alcohol & Nicotine.. over 5,000,000 died from medical errors. 700,000 committed suicide…700,000 die from hospital & nursing home acquired MRSA & C-Dif. Almost 194,000 died from prescription drug overdoses) is consuming our culture, filling the minds of the many with the bullied bias against the few, while the pandemic of pain continues to eviscerate American citizens. This is the time for the media, especially CNN and Anderson Cooper to step in and be the voice for those who cannot compete with the multi-million dollar anti-opioid campaign that is taking away Americans’ basic human rights to “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

We have all read and heard statistic that “Over 16,000 people dying every year from opioid overdose.” This number has been hammered into our heads as the opioid “epidemic,” I read it quoted in a New York Times article just last week. Two things are ironically and consistently left out–This statistic is from 2011 (since then, the number has gone down significantly) and, the CDC ADMITTEDLY SKEWED THE NUMBERS!

“The CDC study is based on a review of death certificates and didn’t sort out legitimate opioid prescriptions, illegal use of opioids, suicide, deaths caused by alcohol or other medications, or even if the death was truly from opioids and not from some other disease process. Did the patient die from lung cancer or opioid toxicity? Sometimes the latter is entered as the cause of death when it is not the case.”
A close reading of the CDC study also turns up something else. Other medications, particularly anti-depressants, sedatives, anti-anxiety and other mental health drugs, often were involved in the overdoses — not just opioids. To quote from the study: “Opioids were frequently implicated in overdose deaths involving other pharmaceuticals. They were involved in the majority of deaths involving benzodiazepines (77.2%), anti-epileptic and anti-parkinsonism drugs (65.5%), anti-psychotic and neuroleptic drugs (58%), anti-depressants (57.6%), other analgesics, anti-pyretics, and anti-rheumatics (56.5%), and other psychotropic drugs (54.2%).

Why do we never hear about an “epidemic” of deaths from anti-depressants or sedatives? Because in all of the deaths involving multiple drugs, only opioids are singled out as the cause of death. In a recent survey of pharmacists and drug wholesalers by the General Accounting Office (GAO), over half said DEA enforcement actions had limited their ability to supply drugs to legitimate patients. Many said they were fearful of being fined or having their licenses revoked. You won’t see that story being reported in The New York Times or Los Angeles Times because the CDC and DEA aren’t churning out press releases about it.” (

I urge you to read some of the articles that I and others have written on, which demonstrate true journalism, and provide you with information which could lead to the REAL reasons for this opioid hysteria–if you don’t already know. I encourage you to be the network that tells the WHOLE truth, and shows Americans all sides of this story. It has truly become a Civil Rights Issue, which deserves your attention.

According to the Journal of American Society of Anesthesiology, “the unreasonable failure to treat pain is poor medicine, unethical practice, and is an abrogation of a fundamental human right.” So, please endorse the chronic pain community by loudly and clearly speaking out against the invalidation of people with pain, illness, and disability, and help us stop this genocide against the vulnerable members of our society. I am not asking you to “endorse opioids,” just to tell the story of the millions who suffer already, and are being further stigmatized and marginalized.


Emily Ullrich
International Pain Foundation


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