Have you noticed the backlash across the country after the Super Bowl advertisements for opioid induced constipation (OIC)?  I know you have likely heard about the Bill Maher tweet:

 Of course there were others:

 According to an official state web site, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin wrote a letter to drug makers AstraZeneca and Daiichi-Sankyo which said in part:

The advertisement was not only poorly timed, it was a shameful attempt to exploit that crisis to boost your companies’ profits.

Pain management in America is too reliant on FDA-approved opiates. In 2012, enough opiate prescriptions were written to give every American their own bottle of pills. The irrational exuberance with which opiates are handed out in America is driving the addiction crisis in this country.


According to CNN Business, Dr. Andrew Kolodny, executive director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing said:

It’s very disturbing to see an ad like that, it’s normalizing the chronic use of opioids, which aren’t demonstrated to be safe over the long term.



Also according to CNN Business Mr. Denis McDonough Chief of Staff for President Barack Obama reportedly tweeted:

Next year, how about fewer ads that fuel opioid addiction and more on access to treatment.


And there are dozens more.  If you want to look at some of them you can do so here but truthfully I suggest you refrain lest you become as angry as I have.

Man with paper bag target over head

FreeImages.com/Amy Palm

I think all of this stems from a terrible misunderstanding of the correct use of opioids for their intended purpose.   Many of us with Rheumatoid Arthritis understand why opioids are used and how they are applied for pain management.  It seems that the mass audience for those advertisements took these advertisements (2 minutes of Super bowl time) and blew up a national debate at our expense.

This behavior is not new. I have faced it my entire adult life within the context of Diabetes.  As most know, I have type 1 Diabetes and, like many friends with diabetes, I am often subjected to a slew of jokes about pop, candy, and cake that gave me diabetes (note: Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, it has nothing to do with any of those things).  Now I am getting it in a different media context.  The message seems to be that if you take opioids you are an addict and you can’t poop.

I doubt any of these commentators have ever faced chronic pain.  I doubt most have any idea about what we go through.  Just like I doubt half the people understand the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

I also understand that no amount of reason (arguing, for instance, that it is not illegal to advertise prescription medication on TV or that advertising similar medications is rather common place on American TV) will make one bit of difference to those who made these comments.  Nor will anyone really care that these medications are only available if doctors prescribe them, or that presumably prescriptions are only written to those who need them.

So why the outrage about these advertisements?  I have a feeling it is much less about the medication and much more about the narrow subset of people opioids are used for.  In my opinion, Americans are becoming sensitized to make fun of a new class of people and once again I find myself part of the class.

Diabetes is not enough for the American appetite for ridicule, now we are adding people with chronic pain.  But as I have told my friends in the diabetes community, it will not end here.  When they tire of making fun of us they will move on.

At one point in our history it was the handicapped, before that mentally challenged, and before that women.  Trust me it will be someone after us, though it may seem like a long time before this moves on.   So here are four things things we can do to help speed this along:

  1. Fight it whenever you can. When someone makes light of other people stand up and say “no, not in my presence.”
  2. Remember when someone attacks people with diabetes or handicapped individuals or any group of people it is not ok. Our best offense is to short-circuit the conversation and say “no that is not fair,” and then tell them it is not acceptable to do this in my presence.  Trust me, saying “not in my presence” when any group is maligned makes it easier to stand up when you are attacked.
  3. At the first mention of an attack on people with chronic pain, volunteer that you have chronic pain. To know us is to love us and stop ridiculing us.
  4. Help fight the root criticism at the source. Understand that using opioid medications is for our health, use them responsibly and dispose of them properly.  It is true that we are not responsible for the actions of others, but that just means we have to be very responsible for our own actions.  (Don’t worry I know I am preaching to the choir here.)

After that, buckle in as this may be a rough ride for a while.  But let’s remember we will make it through as a community.  After all what choice do we have?  Remember we are all in this together.  We have always had each other’s back and sticking together is better than being picked apart.

A retired Indiana educator who loves humor and adjectives, Rick  writes on living life with RA and diabetes. Rick also blogs at www.RADiabetes.com.

Note: The CreakyJoints logo is displayed at the end of the Astra-Zeneca commercial and listed among groups that were consulted prior to airing.  I was not influenced to write this comment because of CreakyJoints, nor have I or do I expect to receive any form of compensation or consideration for writing this item.  This article represents my personal thoughts on this matter.

1. Is our community doing a good enough job defending ourselves from criticism about our use of opioids?