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Letters to the Editor – the Guardian on opioid addiction treatment

The guardian published an article on the 6th of March, 2023 that is perjorative against chronic pain patietns and full of misinformation. Masquerading as an entry in a regular column titled “The Modern Mind” purportedly about mental health, this article is nothing more than an advertorial for South Pacific Private, a treatment centre for ‘trauma, addiction and mental health’.

This article implies that most people who become addicted or overdose on opioids are people who received a precription for pain medication. They use a fictional ‘amalgam’ of many patients as a case study that is nothing more than the tired old trope of ‘the Accidental Addict’. This idea that you only need to take one opioid tablet and become hooked, an instant addict, has been thoroughly debunked. It is nothing more than a media myth. Its clickbait and its disturbing to see the Australian media still perpetuating it.

The article is full of lies and misrepresents the truth about opioid medications, and chronic pain patients, and contributes to the significant stigma that people who rely on long term opioid therapy for chronic pain experience every day.

We are running a ‘Letter to the Editor’ campaign to demand a retraction or correction. My personal preference is that the article be removed.

We have three different ‘letter to the editor’ templates. Please choose one,
copy and paste it into an email and send it to the Guardian Australia’s editor,
and the medical editor as well.

We need to show the Guardian that we, as Chronic pain patients, will not be
depicted in such a perjorative and negative light and we deserve ethical medical
treatment with dignity and compassion.

How to send a letter to the editor of the Guardian:

Below there are three similar ‘Letter to the Editor’ templates. Choose the one you like best.  Cut and past it into your email. 

Feel free to customise these as you wish; add your own personal thoughts and experences, or delete parts that don’t resonate with you.  Or use them ‘as is’.   Don’t forget to add your name at the bottom. 

The Australian editor is Lenore Taylor and the medical editor is Melissa Davey.   I suggest sending your ‘Letter to the Editor’ to both of them.  Their addresses are:

Editor – lenore.taylor@theguardian.com

Medical editor – melissa.davey@theguardian.com

Hit send!  If you receive a reply, we’d love to know about it. And please, share this page with as many people as possible.  We need to start working together to make the media, politicians and medical leaders realise and understand that we are fighting back against the stigma, the discrimination and the forced tapers that continue in Australia. 

Letter 1

 

Dear Editor,

I am writing to express my disappointment and concern about the recent article published in your newspaper. As someone who lives with chronic pain and relies on opioid medications to manage my symptoms, I found the article to be full of inaccuracies and errors. It also contributes to the stigma that people with chronic pain face every day.

The article suggests that addiction and overdose are common in the chronic pain community, which is simply not true. In fact, addiction and overdose are rare among people with chronic pain who take opioids as prescribed.

Dr Padhi, a psychiatrist and the author of this ‘article’ is using a patient case study that is ‘an amalgam of many patients’.  I submit this is extremely unlikely, because the incidence of people being prescribed an opioid and then becoming addicted is extremely low, despite what the media often prints.  It is a myth. It is clickbait. 

The study linked below is a recent, large-scale study that puts the figure of ongoing ‘chronic use’ of opioids after treatment for pain at 3%. 

Hardly the common problem that Dr Padhi is implying.  In fact, the Penington report the article references shows that there were 28 deaths due to opioid overdose in 2020.   The one death every four hours that is very misleadingly quoted are due to polypharmacy and most are from illicit drugs, diverted prescription medication and suicide.  NOT chronic pain patients.

The article also perpetuates the myth of the “accidental addict,” which is not based on evidence. People do not become addicted to opioids after taking a single pill for a minor injury. Addiction is a complex and multifaceted disease that cannot be reduced to a single cause.

Please the references below for evidence.  I realise that this is a regular column on mental health, but the Guardian still has a responsibility to fact-check information and ensure that what is published is accurate and true.  And preferably does not harm a patient population that already endures significant stigma and barriers to accessing quality medical care.

I urge you to retract this article and publish a correction. Or remove it completely.  It is nothing more than an advertorial for Dr Padhi’s addiction medicine treatment clinic.  People with chronic pain deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, not stigmatized as addicts and drug seekers. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

[Your Name]

References:

Recent, large scale study (14,428 patients) that found ‘chronic use’ after being given a dose of various opioids is just under 3%.  I would ask you to note that ‘chronic use’ is not the same as ‘addiction’ as this study is implying.  Many of this 3% had ongoing pain issues and were not addicted.  Even so, over 97% of patients prescribed an opioid for pain do NOT develop ‘chronic use’ OR ‘addiction’. 

https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0266561

Then there is an an even larger study that concludes:

 “Among the 2,021,371 individuals meeting our inclusion criteria, 1121 (or 0.055%) experienced an opioid overdose within 1 year and 64,013 (3.17%) continued treatment for at least 1 year. “

Again, ‘continued treatment’ is not the same as addiction.  Most of these people had ongoing chronic pain, not addiction. But the rate is again, around 3%.  Which means that 97% of people DO NOT become addicted, or use opioids long term for any reason.

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33300138/

These are the facts.

Letter 2

Dear Editor,

I am writing to express my deep concern about the recent article that was published in your newspaper. As someone who has experienced chronic pain for many years, I am dismayed by the inaccuracies and stereotypes in this article.

The article implies that people with chronic pain who take opioids are likely to become addicted or overdose, which is simply not true. In fact, the vast majority of people with chronic pain who take opioids as prescribed do not develop addiction or experience overdose. Furthermore, most opioid-related deaths are due to illicit drugs, not prescribed medications. The Penington report quoted in the article showed that there were 28 deaths attributed to opioids in 2020.  Obviously, Dr Padhi didn’t read the report that he is quoting properly. The figure of four overdose deaths every hour in Australia are overwhelmingly due to polypharmacy, illicit opioids, pharmaceutical opioids obtained illegally and suicide.  NOT chronic pain patients on long term opioid therapy.

The article also perpetuates the damaging myth of the “accidental addict.” This stereotype unfairly stigmatizes people with addiction and suggests that addiction is a simple and straightforward process, which is not the case.  Addiction is multifactorial, but I can confidently say that addiction is NEVER due simply having to access to an addictive substance.  The ‘one dose addict is a lie.  A trope. Its clickbait.

I urge you to retract this article and issue a correction. People with chronic pain deserve to be treated with empathy and respect, not judged, and further stigmatised. Thank you for your attention to this important issue.

Sincerely,

[Your Name]

References:

Recent, large scale study (14,428 patients) that found ‘chronic use’ after being given a dose of various opioids is just under 3%.  I would ask you to note that ‘chronic use’ is not the same as ‘addiction’ as this study is implying.  Many of this 3% had ongoing pain issues and were not addicted.  Even so, over 97% of patients prescribed an opioid for pain do NOT develop ‘chronic use’ OR ‘addiction’. 

https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0266561

Then there is an an even larger study that concludes:

 “Among the 2,021,371 individuals meeting our inclusion criteria, 1121 (or 0.055%) experienced an opioid overdose within 1 year and 64,013 (3.17%) continued treatment for at least 1 year. “

Again, ‘continued treatment’ is not the same as addiction.  Most of these people had ongoing chronic pain, not addiction. But the rate is again, around 3%.  Which means that 97% of people DO NOT become addicted, or use opioids long term for any reason.

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33300138/

These are the facts.

Letter 3

Dear Editor,

I am writing to express my deep concern about the recent article by Dr Padhi that was published in The Guardian. As a person who lives with severe, chronic pain, and a pain patient advocate, I am outraged by the inaccuracies and errors in this article. I am deeply troubled by the fact that this article contributes to the stigma that is already endured by those of us who rely on opioid pain medications to function and have any kind of quality of life.

The article claims that addiction and overdose are common in the chronic pain community, but this is simply not true. In fact, the evidence shows that addiction and overdose are very rare in this population. The majority of people who become addicted to pharmaceutical opioids do not do so from a prescription written for them. They access opioids that were diverted from a friend or family member or bought illegally.

Furthermore, the ‘accidental addict’ is a trope that has been perpetuated by the media but is simply untrue. People do not become instantly addicted after taking one opioid tablet for dental pain or a sprained ankle. The vast majority of people have no compulsion to continue taking opioids once pain has healed. 

However, for some of us the pain will never heal.  We live with progressive, incurable, painful diseases where the only care is palliative.  To deny people pain relief is cruelty, and to paint people who have painful, incurable diseases as drug seekers and addicts is abhorrent.  Yet this is what Dr Padhi, and the Guardian, have done.   This is unethical in the extreme.

The truth is that opioids, when taken for severe pain, do not induce euphoria, they reduce the pain to a manageable level which allows the chronic pain patient to work, socialise and contribute to their community.

The article was written by a doctor who specializes in addiction medication, a psychiatrist by training. This doctor would be well aware of these facts and is therefore providing disinformation that harms chronic pain patients for his own self-gain.  He states the so-called patient profile is ‘an amalgam of several cases’ but he would be well aware that addiction to pharmaceutical opioids in chronic pain patients is very rare.  He is perpetuating a myth for his own self-gain, which is not only unethical, but is immoral.

I realise that this article is part of a regular column on mental health, but the Guardian still has a responsibility to fact-check information and ensure that what is published is accurate and true.

People who live with severe, daily pain are amongst the most vulnerable in society and should be treated with dignity and compassion, not be branded as addicts and drug seekers. Chronic pain patients and people with substance use disorders are two very separate patient cohorts with very little crossover.  Somewhere in the order of 1%, despite what some parts of the media, and doctors like Dr Padhi, would have the world believe.

I implore you to retract this article and issue a correction. Chronic pain patients deserve to be treated with empathy and support, not be demonized. We should not have to endure further discrimination and stigma purely because we have the misfortune to have developed a serious, progressive, incurable painful disease. 

Sincerely,

[Your Name]

References:

Recent, large scale study (14,428 patients) that found ‘chronic use’ after being given a dose of various opioids is just under 3%.  I would ask you to note that ‘chronic use’ is not the same as ‘addiction’ as this study is implying.  Many of this 3% had ongoing pain issues and were not addicted.  Even so, over 97% of patients prescribed an opioid for pain do NOT develop ‘chronic use’ OR ‘addiction’. 

https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0266561

Then there is an an even larger study that concludes:

 “Among the 2,021,371 individuals meeting our inclusion criteria, 1121 (or 0.055%) experienced an opioid overdose within 1 year and 64,013 (3.17%) continued treatment for at least 1 year. “

Again, ‘continued treatment’ is not the same as addiction.  Most of these people had ongoing chronic pain, not addiction. But the rate is again, around 3%.  Which means that 97% of people DO NOT become addicted, or use opioids long term for any reason.

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33300138/

These are the facts.

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STAY UP TO DATE
WITH OUR CURRENT CAMPAIGNS

Sign up to receive information on our campaigns, including stopping the forced opioid tapers, rebutting the false narratives and flawed science promoted by the media, some universities and politicians, and even raising awareness amongst our peak bodies who are suppoed to be fighting for us!

We don’t spam! Read our [link]privacy policy[/link] for more info.

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