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A Pain Epidemic

December 10, 2017

Standard Examiner

Pain. How do we describe pain? Shooting, aching, throbbing, stabbing, and overwhelming. Or when we run out of gerunds, emotional pain, physical pain, nerve pain, painful to the touch, or we point and say, “It hurts here.” Pain permeates our lives. If the word “love” encompasses everything from the VIB breakfast at Village Inn to your mother to your romantic partner, then pain easily matches love, perhaps even as the perfect opposite, in terms of the word’s broad applicability.


So I can write something like “politics is painful” and everyone understands the specific kind of pain to which I refer. The pain of politics crosses political boundaries and different things cause political pain for different people, but the pain is real and our human nature is to remember our pain.


The old cliche about not touching a hot stove misses the point, because oftentimes, we get burned even when we know the stove is hot. I think about the scar on my right forearm. It’s faded quite a bit after 40 years, but I still see it. While reaching into a hot oven to retrieve a pan, I burned my forearm. Even though I was careful, and used hot pads, my wrist came up too high and hit the top heating coil in the oven. Although young, I knew not to touch a hot stove. I’d made the appropriate efforts to avoid getting burned, but almost like it had a will of its own, the stove reached out and touched my arm. I still recall that pain, so I take an abundance of care, even now, to avoid the top part of an oven. Stoves and ovens are hot, but sometimes, no matter how careful we are, we get burned. And when our skin gets burned, there is always pain.


We know most of the things that cause pain. We also know many things that ease pain. This knowledge alone is insufficient. Looking through the news, I feel the burn throughout my whole body. There is just so much pain. Too much pain. Often, the very thing that eases pain will paradoxically cause pain. The most effective pain relief humans have ever found is in the seed of a flower. Ah, but too much of it, and the relief suddenly becomes the source of even more pain.


A lot of ink has been given to the opioid crisis — the “Opidemic” — in the United States, and just a couple of weeks ago, the Weber County Commission voted to sue opioid manufacturers for the financial and physical pain. I’m not downplaying the commissioners’ decision; our government should be holding private companies accountable. It is, in part, why we have a government. Our collective citizenry is the only counterbalance to the giant, collective, economic force of corporations.


Yet, the decision to jump on the bandwagon of the opioid epidemic is about as helpful as telling us to not touch a hot stove. While our commissioners were voting to sue the pharmaceutical companies for the damages caused by opioid abuse, the Supreme Court was instructing the solicitor general of the United States to weigh in on Merck’s request to give the pharmaceutical companies immunity from state laws as long as they follow the requirements of the FDA’s drug labeling. A ruling from the business-friendly Supreme Court would nip the commissioner’s decision in the bud as long as the rules and laws of the system protect pharmaceutical companies from the pain of being held accountable.


So there is the pain of a system that protects the bad behavior of large corporations, and we are pained by that knowledge. Families and friends, left behind because of a loved one’s untimely death, may feel that pain even more acutely. The pain of a political system that — in the 11th hour, and then only for two weeks — managed to fund health care for otherwise uninsured children, is an enduring nagging pain. In the last-minute budget deal that avoided a government shutdown late Thursday, Congress managed to give two weeks funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, but we are going to need to wait until three days before Christmas to see if the government is going to inflict more economic and political pain on us, all over again, with another shutdown.


Ironically, one of the issues that could lead to a shutdown is a fight over funding to resolve the opioid epidemic. Pain relief, begetting pain, begetting more pain.


We are asking the wrong questions on the opioid epidemic. We are asking the wrong questions of our lawmakers. The question we should be asking is, Why are so many people in so much pain? More than opioids, we have an epidemic of pain. The pain is shooting, searing, and seemingly, neverending. The pain is killing us. Pain is turning us against each other. When all is said and done, where will we find relief?


E. Kent Winward is a Ogden attorney. Twitter: @KentWinward.

Guest columnist

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