BLOG: Combating the opioid problem

Katherine Ranzenberger
York Dispatch

I spent 10 hours yesterday in the critical care unit of the emergency department at WellSpan York Hospital.

My ever-so-lovely IV from yesterday at the hospital. I may end up going back and needing another one.

I had and still have severe abdominal pain in the lower right corner of my stomach, and I had all the signs and symptoms of appendicitis. I was well cared for by my nurses, Zach and Kathy. The doctors were great and explained everything to me that was happening.

I had great technicians with me in the CT scan area and ultrasound room. After 10 hours, I was discharged and told to self monitor. If things got worse, come back. I may end up going back later this afternoon, because things have not changed.

I have no complaints for how well I was treated at WellSpan. I've liked every doctor I've had there.

However, without even realizing it, I got an inside look at how the opioid crisis started.

Once I finally got into a room, Zach and Kathy worked diligently to set up an IV so I could have necessary fluids. They gave me ondansetron, also known as Zofran, for the nausea I was experiencing.

But on doctors' orders, they gave me morphine for the pain. I had had morphine once before in my life, and it was a long time ago. I honestly didn't think it worked that well, but it was a different kind of pain this time, so maybe it would.

I've been reluctant to take opiates because I know how much of a problem they can cause in the long run. I've covered this enough times in the last few months to know that opioids are the gateway to heroin, and that's not a Sasquatch I want to mess with.

First thing I noticed after the nurse put the morphine in my IV was that I felt like I couldn't breathe right. I struggled to take a whole breath. It's taken nearly 24 hours for that feeling to go away. I remember thinking to myself, "How the hell do people enjoy this?!"

My best friend, who has been a pharmacy technician for five years, told me that morphine isn't the drug of choice for most people when it comes to opioids. She said, "morphine causes the most discomfort of any of them."

Things like Vicodin and oxycodone can trigger the dopamine receptors in the brain, giving people a high they crave again and again.

"While many believe these drugs are not dangerous because they can be prescribed by a doctor, abuse often leads to dependence," according to DrugAbuse.gov. "And eventually, for some, pain medication abuse leads to heroin."

Again, a squatch I don't want to mess with.

After I was released, the doctor gave me a prescription for oxycodone, one of those medications that's abused often. He gave me a prescription for eight tablets.

Now, I don't plan to take any of them. Even though I'm still in pain, I know there are other ways to treat it without having to rely on an opioid. I'm resting and listening to my body and taking care of it as best I can. I have been in worse pain than this before.

For this blog, though, I filled the prescription to see how much the copay was. As it happened, I also had to pick up my depression and anxiety medication from the pharmacy.

The cost of oxycodone (top) versus something I take daily for depression (bottom).

The total of the two prescriptions after my insurance was $8.96. My Prozac cost $8...

There's something wrong with this picture.

The fact that an opioid costs less than a fix for my depression is appalling.

My chronic disorder, something I have been diligent in treating for the last six months, cost me more than eight times the amount of something that can actually be abused and lead to awful side effects.

I know that some people are using opioids to treat chronic pain, to treat smaller things like the pain I'm in right now and to treat other issues. However, the fact that my doctor readily gave me morphine and oxycodone and that the oxycodone was so cheap makes me wonder how many others are piecing this together and seeing what I'm seeing.

Now, I'm not sure exactly how to fix things when it comes to prescription drugs. I'm still getting to know the ins and outs of the health care world. I'm not complaining about how I was treated at WellSpan. I am very appreciative of their attentive care.

But I hope that someone reads this and sees that something has to change in the medical system to fix this opioid and heroin epidemic that's taken over our country.

Something needs to change, and it has to change soon.

— Reach Katherine Ranzenberger at kranzenberger@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @YDKatherine.