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People in Pain Need Access to Suicide Hotline Number

People contemplating suicide because of untreated pain or any other reason should call 988, the Suicide Hotline Number.

When a reader calls us on an important omission, we try to correct our error. That happened recently when we wrote about the CDC guidelines for opioid use. We were so focused on access to adequate pain relief that we completely overlooked the importance of the new suicide hotline number.

People Who Are Suffering Need to Know the Suicide Hotline Number:

Q. I’d like to make a suggestion in relation to a recent letter you answered. The person was suffering from horrific muscle spasms due to Parkinson’s disease.

She had been using Dilaudid for five years to deal with the pain when it became unbearable. However, CDC guidelines had pushed her doctor to try to get her off Dilaudid. That’s even though she had never abused the medication. She said that she now spends most of her day in bed and that she is ready to take her own life.

You responded to her heartbreaking letter with good information about recent changes in the CDC guideline on opioids. Apparently they acknowledged that their 2016 rules had caused patient harm and perhaps even suicide. You addressed the changes in the CDC guideline, but I was aghast to see you end your reply with that. I couldn’t understand why you didn’t take her suicidality more seriously.

I have been a therapist for more than 30 years. In the past, I too have gone through years of suffering from chronic pain that left me bedridden and suicidal. Therefore, addressing her suicidal ideation directly would help her, but also countless thousands of other people.  Most may not know where to turn for help.

I wish you had provided a simple statement like this:

“If you or someone you know is suicidal because of chronic pain or any other reason, we urge you to talk with your doctor immediately or seek support from the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (call 988).”

Suicidal Thoughts Must Be Taken Seriously:

A. Thank you for pointing out that people experiencing suicidal thoughts for any reason should be encouraged to get support from the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. 988 is the new nationwide phone number for suicide prevention.

We hope that health professionals will also change their opioid prescribing and dispensing practices in line with the new CDC Practice Guideline. It urges health care providers to offer “compassionate, safe, and effective pain care.” No one should be driven to suicide because of inadequate pain relief.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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