“Erin” gave birth to her first child in December 2015. After the delivery, her nurse handed her a little white paper cup with two hospital-strength ibuprofen.
“You must be in pain,” the nurse told Erin. “Just let me know if you want something stronger, and I’ll go grab it for you.”
Erin was stunned.
“Not, ‘How are you feeling?’ Not, ‘Here, try these and I’ll check on you after a while?’” Erin says. “Not, ‘I know your pain stinks, but I promise it’ll get better, and here, have some ice packs.’ I know her concern was making sure I was comfortable, but her easygoing way of offering me opioid pills was terrifying.”
Erin has seen the effects of opioid abuse. She has a brother who’s been addicted to pain medication for over a decade, receiving his first prescription after oral surgery for a damaged tooth back when he was 13. Erin, who is seven years older than her brother, was in college when his addiction began.
She knew he had a problem — “In high school, he spent most of his time locked in his room trying to hide his habit and sleep off the effects.”
But she didn’t know how serious it was. In his 20s, her brother dropped out of college and couldn’t hold a job.
He tried rehab twice and spent three months in jail on larceny charges after he stole money and jewelry from his parents to buy pills. He now lives in his old room at their parents’ house.
“My parents did everything right,” Erin says. “They raised three kids, and we had everything we needed and most of what we wanted. My parents had planned to retire soon, but now they’re raising his daughter, their granddaughter. They’ve spent so much time, tears and money — and the most frustrating part is that none of us really seem to know how to fix this mess.”
Scratch that, Erin says. The most frustrating part is that just about everyone she knows has a story like hers. Her husband had a close friend who died of a fentanyl overdose in 2012. So the offer from her sweet, kind-faced nurse was understandably hurtful.
“I know some people need them,” she says. “The thing that terrified me was how easy it would have been for me to get them. I would have hoped more screening measures would be in place in a medical setting before they determined that I needed that type of painkiller.
“But nope. ‘Just let me know if you want something stronger.’”