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How the War on Drugs Is Hurting Chronic Pain Patients

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How the War on Drugs Is Hurting Chronic Pain Patients

When 58-year-old Zyp Cyk* had a serious mountain biking accident in June, she refused to go to the emergency room even though her injuries knocked her out cold and her husband pleaded for her to seek help.

Instead, Cyk slept for two days—contrary to the conventional wisdom of what you're supposed to do after sustaining a head injury. Only then did she finally agree to go to an urgent care center, where she discovered she had broken her collarbone and some ribs and needed surgery.

Cyk isn't afraid of doctors, hospitals, or pain medication, and she's not opposed to Western medicine. In fact, she's been taking Oxycontin for chronic pain for nearly two decades. And that's the problem: She feared that if she went to the hospital she might be labeled a drug-seeker, which could lead to her doctor cutting off her opioid prescription, leaving her without the treatment that makes her life bearable.

Cyk is just one of the more than 100 million Americans with chronic pain caught in the latest drug war crossfire. These patients and their doctors are often targeted by federal agencies like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in an intensifying crackdown on painkillers that fall in the same class of drugs—opioids—as heroin. But these efforts are as misguided as most "supply-side" drug war initiatives, and the collateral damage tends to be excruciating.


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