“What do you know about OxyContin?” He asked. I could see pain written all over his face as he spoke.
I knew he had chronic back pain. Multiple surgeries. Injections. Physical therapy. More surgeries. A back stimulator. Nothing had worked.
He was family.
I always tried to avoid talking about medicine at family gatherings and I especially tried to avoid talking about narcotics with family that was taking them, but something in his eyes made me answer.
“It is a pretty strong pain medication,” I answered. “Supposed to last twelve hours. You’re taking it?”
“I just started it a couple of months ago. I don’t think it’s working.” He paused as the waitress put down his food in front of him, a burger and fries, then placed a salad in front of me, making her way around the rest of the table. “I mean, sometimes it does. But when it wears off, the pain is worse than ever before.” His hands shook as he reached for the burger.
He was suffering.
His face was gaunt. He had lost weight.
I didn’t know what to say. If OxyContin wasn’t helping, then there was nothing left for him. Nothing at all. I had no idea how to help. So I told him to follow up with his pain specialist pronto and changed the subject.
Several weeks later, he shot himself in the head with a rifle. It was in the early morning hours after a sleepless night, in the shed in his back yard. His wife woke up to the sound of the gunshot and found him there.
Now, it is known that the manufacturers of OxyContin knew it did not last for 12 hours. It wore off much earlier. The withdrawals were terrible. They deliberately hid this information from physicians, using their drug reps to tell doctors to push the dose higher rather than dose more frequently, exacerbating the highs and lows. Read about it here.
How many other people, faced with this nightmare, also chose to die?
He was a good man.
He was the victim of a botched back surgery and a greedy pharmaceutical company and it makes me angry. This is one of the reasons I don’t speak to drug reps that come by my office. They may have the best of intentions but they are still just pawns in a bigger game.
In fact, perhaps we are all pawns.