Tales from the Practice of Medicine: Addiction to Medicine (Part One)

Yu Ling

PureInsight | July 11, 2005

[PureInsight.org] In this world full of temptations, a person without a strong will can easily develop an addiction. At first he might even think his new habit is a good thing or at least not a bad thing. But once a person becomes addicted, it will be extremely difficult for the person to overcome the addiction. A person's addiction can even sometimes cost him his life, a deadly consequence he does not foresee.

I would like to share a clinical case where a patient developed a deadly addiction to a painkiller.

Tyler had suffered from back pain for many years. Like many patients who suffer from back pain, Tyler initially injured her back and had trouble walking. In order to stop the back pain, she took over-the-counter aspirin. At first she followed the instructions on the label and took one to two pills every hour. Eventually she had to take a dozen aspirins every hour. She began to purchase truckloads of aspirin from the drugstore to ease her pain. Then the back pain extended to one of her legs, causing excruciating pain and the feeling of numbness. Then it became sciatica (pain along the large sciatic nerve that runs from the lower back down the back of each leg—is a relatively common form of lower back pain and leg pain.) Now over-the-counter painkiller would not do it for her. Tyler had to take a prescription painkiller. Painkillers are divided into ten different levels. The lowest level is aspirin and the highest level is drugs like morphine or heroin, which cause the patient to develop hallucinations. But when the drug wears off, the patient will return to the reality with excruciating pain.

At first Tyler's doctor prescribed Ibuprofen, but it failed to reduce her pain, so the doctor suspected that she might have a myoma [a tumor composed of muscle tissue] in her uterus. The doctor then removed her uterus. She had four operations where doctors removed all possible causes of her pain.

Her body began to react negatively to the drugs and she started to suffer from many different kinds of strange symptoms. Because the pain did not get less intense after the four surgeries, her doctor kept prescribing stronger painkillers. Within two years' time, Tyler gained 50 lbs. Because of the stronger painkillers, she became extremely sensitive to pain. Even the slightest pain could cause her to pass out. As a result, she became so dependent on painkillers that she could actually qualify as a drug addict. She would go see a different doctor every other day to ask for a new prescription for painkillers. Tyler could get three prescriptions in a week. Doctors don't always communicate with each other, especially when the patient fails to mention that she is seeing multiple doctors and getting prescriptions from all of them. Eventually the drugstore discovered the issue. How could a patient have so many prescriptions for painkillers? They checked her files and found that her prescriptions for painkillers had come from a dozen different doctors. The amount of prescription painkiller that she took in one day was enough to make ten average people sleep for three consecutive days.

Finally Tyler's family doctor found out her secret and decided not to give her any more prescriptions. It was then her family doctor transferred Tyler to me as a referral.

The doctor told me over the phone, "By transferring Tyler to you, I might be jeopardizing our working relationship. You might think of me as an extremely irresponsible doctor to make a young woman who suffers from a simple back pain become addicted to painkillers. If this continues, she will be admitted to the psychiatric ward."

I had a lot of sympathy for Tyler's doctor after I heard the story.

Tyler told me, "I have been living in agony for two years. I have spent countless weekends in the emergency room. One time, after taking a painkiller, the next thing I knew was that I found myself sitting in front of my home eating ice cream. I couldn't remember how I got home and why I was sitting in front of my house. I was so terrified that I had cold sweats because I had no memory of the past few hours. No one could tell me what was wrong with me, so they told me I needed psychiatric treatment. They told me I was imagining the pain and that I don't suffer from any back pain at all. They told me I was a drug addict…" Then Tyler burst into tears.

I started calming her down and told her that I might be able to treat her back pain with acupuncture.

After a few acupuncture needles, Tyler was able to calm down.

(To be continued…)

Translated from:

Add new comment