Published by The Inquirer – Philly.com

Through the decade following a car accident on a rural Pennsylvania road that peeled back her scalp, left four pieces of titanium in her arms and “many, many staples,” Sherlin Larsen took one post-surgical bottle of prescription painkillers and nothing else stronger than Motrin. Then an attempted fix to her shattered hip joint started to fail.

“I finally gave in and asked for an opiate to help me until my replacement later this year,” said Larsen, now 31 and living in Crofton, Md. Her doctor refused and sent her to a pain management clinic, where “suddenly, I’m being scrutinized like I’m trying to sniff the stuff up my nose or sell it on the streets,” she said.

“I was spoken to like a neglectful child. Like a junkie.”

Many people who take prescription opioids for chronic, sometimes excruciating, pain report similar experiences feeling humiliated and stigmatized by the reactions they get from doctors, pharmacists, even friends and would-be employers.

“I hate that I’m considered bad because I need pain relief,” said Kelly Johnston, 38, a mother of three from San Antonio, Texas, who has Crohn’s disease as well as ankylosing spondylitis, a severe type of inflammatory arthritis that mostly affects the spine. It afflicts 2.7 million Americans but has few visible symptoms.

She lost her best friend, who “had heard through the grapevine that I abused my medications and that nothing was wrong with me,” said Johnston, who says she has worked diligently with her rheumatologist to cut back on her medicines.

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