Why Movements Like #PatientsNotAddicts Are Ableist

The website Stop Ableism defines ableism as the following:

Practices and dominant attitudes in society that devalue and limit the potential of persons with disabilities — OR — a set of practices and beliefs that assign inferior value (worth) to people who have developmental, emotional, physical or psychiatric disabilities.

With the recent conversations about the abuse of opiates in the chronic pain community, I find myself thinking about this definition a lot. There are patients who use hashtags for other movements to show their battle with pain instead of creating their own grassroots movements, watering down support and resources for patients like those of us with mental health struggles.

The biggest offender lately is a recent movement that has begun to try to normalize the need to take opiates and other controlled substances to handle chronic pain called #PatientsNotAddicts.

I understand the need to utilize something to share how chronic pain patients do not experience a buzz or high from these medications but instead some semblance of pain relief. I understand the need to help share that these medications allow us to play with our kids or cook or clean or go to work.

As someone who takes multiple controlled substances, I certainly know how important they are to my day and to my overall quality of life.

We forget something integral when we use tags like #PatientsNotAddicts though — addiction is a disease with clear genetic components to it. Like my invisible chronic pain related illnesses, you cannot see addiction. Like types of arthritis, addiction can affect your internal organs and skin. Like PTSD or fibromyalgia, addiction can be triggered as a result of trauma and insufficient help.

We are simply adding to the stigma facing others by using this phrase in addition to making patients feel uncomfortable enough that they leave patient communities and lose desperately needed support. At what point is it okay to take down others struggling with illness in order to make us look better? Would we allow this in, say, the fibromyalgia community if the rheumatoid arthritis community did something similar?

I’d like to think not, but I didn’t think we would have a conversation over this with addiction, either.

I have received countless messages from other patients frustrated with how this movement depicts others or themselves.

I had one patient who has faced addiction issues in the past tell me they cannot follow some of the amazing leaders within the greater patient community because these leaders share articles or pieces that make them feel like garbage. This person has had to leave groups and stop doing work on activism because they continually run into these hurtful ideas.

And that’s not the only negative aspect of these issues I’ve heard.

We need to take a note from intersectional feminism and acknowledge that we have biases. We need to discuss that these biases make the movement less relevant and more harmful in dividing the greater patient community. We need to talk about how access to care and education impact how patients are seen and heard. We need to desperately address how racism affects pain relief and the diagnosis process for many patients.

Aren’t patients with addiction issues still patients? Do they not deserve pain relief or to be included in these conversations?

While there were good intentions with this movement and others like it, they have unintentionally removed humanity from our fellow patients. We have become no better than the stigmatizing pieces that CNN and Fox News run on opiates.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that’s something to be proud of.

Originall published on Medium.

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