Ignorance of the Opioid Crisis
I have never been a fan of prescription opioids for pain relief. For me, the side effects are so horrible that I cannot take most. I believe Tramadol didn’t make me sick as the first two I had tried, but I was also prescribed the anti-nausea medication to take along with it after my hip labrum tear surgery.
So, when I was diagnosed with Interstitial Cystitis and then Fibromyalgia, there wasn’t even a question in my mind about using them. Like most people in the general public, I have heard the horror stories about people getting addicted and even overdosing from their use. The strict crackdown on prescribing and use of opioids seemed to be a good step for the government to take. However, I had no real understanding of what such a blanket policy would mean for the individual who had been using opioids to manage their pain.
A Review of the film Pain Warriors by Tina Petrova and Eugen Weis
The Mission of Pain Warriors
I was introduced to this new documentary through a friend, Jason Herterich who lives with chronic pain. He is one of the pain warriors featured at the end of the documentary. Tina Petrova, the award-winning filmmaker, is his friend. Petrova has been a pain warrior since 1997, after a serious car accident on an icy, windy mountain road in California, she slide off a cliff, plunging down 6,000 feet.
Petrova (director, producer, writer) and Eugen Weis (editor, director, producer) have spent seven years bringing this poignantly enlightening documentary to fruition. Through a crowd fundraising campaign, this film was supported by pain patients and doctors with the goal of giving visibility to those living with intractable pain so that they may be believed, understood, and have better access to treatment that allows them to live FULLY again.
The film’s mission statement explains, “Pain Warriors tackles the other side of the opioid crisis ~ that of under-treated pain patients and the slow death of compassion that surrounds them…Both Doctors and patients alike suffer~ when a “one size fits all” political strategy is implemented to end overdose deaths and addiction, without the foresight to what happens on the other side of the equation.” This film opened my eyes and brought them tears as I witnessed the pain of the five individuals whose stories are told in such a raw and eloquent manner.
A Synopsis of the Film
Firstly, I want to say that the film is captivating in every way-with impactful cinematography put to the beautiful original score by James Mark Stewart and how they’ve woven together these five stories, each different, yet the same. Each story spoke to the very core of me. When Karen’s husband reads from her journal, “…I understand when someone with severe chronic pain feels so bad that they consider suicide. I do not condemn those people,” my heart began to physically ache. I could not hold back my tears.
This is an honest look at what living with chronic pain is like, especially when one isn’t able to get treatment to bring any relief. Their stories bring light to the millions of people living with chronic pain. (According to painwarriorsmovie.com the reported numbers of those living with chronic pain in Canada-7 million, USA- 117 million, UK: 10 million, and Australia- 1/5).
The film is dedicated to Sherri Little who lived with debilitating pain of Fibromyalgia and an inability to digest food due to inflammatory bowel disease, severe colitis, and other conditions. After years of trying every option, her cry for help was shunned by her doctor and then ignored when she made a last-ditch plea with her patient advocate at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on July 3, 2015.
Little freckled-faced Hunter, 11, and his mom tell his story of surviving cancer after four years of chemo and steroid therapy, he developed chronic pain. As he explains, the chemo is like the Hulk, who does good and bad. As the chemo defeated the cancer within him, it also broke things in his body that has now caused his chronic pain. His mom states that Hunter, “…feels like he’s unheard. He feels like he’s unbelieved.”
After a car accident at the age of 18, Yanekah faced severe pain over the years that led to mental health issues of depression and anxiety. When she found out she was to be a mother, her anxiety over being able to care for her child and deal with her chronic pain was one she didn’t feel she could share out because of the judgment of her as a mom.
After a car accident, Karen dealt with many years of chronic pain and severe headaches without any diagnosis. Finally, after seeing a specialist who she tracked down, she was diagnosed with cerebral spinal leaks. Through more research, she found another doctor who would perform repeated surgery to construct patches. These did not hold.
Dr. Ibsen’s Story
After a 30+ year career as an emergency room doctor, Mark Ibsen opened his own Urgency Care practice in Helena, Montana. In 2013, he began to see more and more chronic pain patients who were taking opioids to manage their symptoms. They flocked to him because their own doctors had stopped prescribing them their medication due to the CDC’s new policy. Doctors fear a stiff sanction from the medical board if they didn’t stop prescribing opioids to their pain patients. Ibsen was one of the last doctors in Montana willing to prescribe opioid pain medication to new patients, including many who drove hundreds of miles to see him. He explains, “People who have been treated for ten years with pain medications shouldn’t be suddenly abandoned.”
How to Watch this Very Important Film
Pain Warriors hit the streaming platforms this past May. It is available on all the major platforms. Petrova had planned to hold large showings but COVID-19 has put a damper on that.
This is not a light movie, but it is important that we view it and share it with anyone willing to listen. This is a cry out. There is a growing “epidemic of chronic pain and chronic illness, and it is causing a devastating toll on both individuals and society. By the year 2020, the number of those living with chronic pain is expected to climb to 1 in 3. Without timely education, resources, and treatment, we stand to create an emerging, global health crisis.”
By watching this film, you are helping to raise awareness that can bring about the needed changes in our health system and in the way we treat those with chronic pain.
Purchase or Rent Video via (live links below)
- Amazon for DVD or Blue-ray
- Amazon Prime Video (You can create a watch party of your own by using this platform and have discussions with those in the group you form.)
- iTunes Rent or Purchase (rent for only $2.99)
Need to Keep Opioids in the Chronic Pain Treatment Tool Box
Dr. Ginevra Lipton, chronic pain doctor who is also a patient, writes in her article CDC Opioid Guidelines Created an Epidemic of Underrated Chronic Pain explains, “The 2016 CDC guidelines really cemented the medical hysteria around opioids (see the timeline for further exploration) and rapid adoption of their strict opioid dosage ceilings and duration limits has resulted in widespread undertreatment of chronic pain.”
She goes on to explain that while research is being done and new breakthroughs seem to be imminent, we can’t pull what treatments we have, “…until we have other choices in our pain toolbox, opioids must remain an option, while continuing efforts to minimize their risk of addiction and abuse.” In an article published in April of 2019, the CDC has admitted that the guidelines “had (been) used…to justify an ‘inflexible application of recommended dosage and duration thresholds and policies that encourage hard limits and abrupt tapering of drug dosages,’ when the guidelines did not actually endorse those policies.”
Ways You Can Help
- Visit Pain News Network: subscribe to their newsletter or even donate to their efforts
- Share the film with your family, friends, and health caretakers
- Share this post or the documentary’s trailer on your social networks
- Donate to the film creators to fund community screenings and film festivals
- Get involved: https://painwarriorsunite.com/
While I’ve written about my lack of infinity for the term pain warrior (see my post: Those Are Fighting Words! Metaphors Make Meaning) because I don’t see myself as fighting the pain, I do see my role as a warrior to fight for early chronic pain diagnosis (see my post about childhood symptoms of FMS), for serious research leading to better understanding and treatment of chronic pain, and a change in societal views and treatment of those living with chronic pain. I state it here and now. I will do all that I am able to help bring living to its FULLest for those with chronic pain.