Bodily pain, no matter how excruciating and uncomfortable, is actually our friend … not our enemy. Once you understand this, you will realize that most types of pain are actually beneficial for us. They signal that the body is either lacking in some nutrients, needs some relaxation, water or sleep, has been injured at a certain place and indicates the rate of recovery, or some muscle or organ needs healing. Bodily pain indicates life, whilst it’s absence denotes loss of life or limb. It’s very similar to the red light found on ones electric kettle at home. When the water is boiling, the switch indicates danger, likewise, when the body is ailing, pain signals danger. Will anyone disconnect the red light on their kettle when the water boils? No, similarly we should not be rushing to pop pills when experiencing any type of pain without addressing its root cause.
This is simple logic, but many have not paid heed to it – with disastrous consequences to their health. Many people simply pull out their “red light”, and abuse their bodies by continuously popping pills until they become hopelessly addicted to them. Those who eventually overcome their addiction, suddenly find that they have an additional problem: they cannot sleep without them and their liver has been poisoned. There are some people who pop up to 100 pills a day! They spend more money on pain management than on their entire family’s monthly grocery bills. For such people, their jobs or their busy businesses schedules is more important than their health. What they fail to realize is that no amount of doctors, hospitals or money will be able to reverse the long-term damage upon their health when they eventually decide to address the issue. Their only solution would be even more pills, expensive rehabilitation, and maybe even surgery.
Unlike banned substances, many people do not intentionally become addicted to legal pain killers. They are victims of unfortunate circumstances who do not take the trouble of finding out of the various safer options of pain management and elimination. Let’s take the case of Nadeem*: “I got a prescription for Iboprofen* when I hurt my back in an accident. I was supposed to take two pills twice a day, but I was worried that it wouldn’t be enough. So I took a few more, just to make sure it worked. Iboprofen did more than just dull the pain. I really enjoyed how it made me feel. I could relax and worry less about my family and business. I also got really tired, though. I had to drag myself around some days. When my prescription ran out, I became very sick. Even though it was winter, I sweated like it was summer. And my whole body was in pain, much worse than my back pain. I knew that there was another problem and I was scared.
I started going to many different doctors to get more prescriptions. I’d lie and say that I was in terrible pain—worse than what I actually felt. I needed more and more pills to feel OK—more than one doctor would ever prescribe. Many doctors and pharmacists were greedy, so they willingly helped me out for cash. I’d fill the different prescriptions at different pharmacies. Sometimes I’d drive for hours to find a store where they didn’t know me. At home, my wife was upset because I was ignoring our business.
Then one day I was at a pharmacy with my wife, and the pharmacist said she wouldn’t fill my prescription. The computer records showed I had already bought a ton of painkillers in a short time at several different stores, and she would get into trouble. I was embarrassed as my wife witnessed all this, but I was even more scared of getting sick like I did the last time I ran out of pills. The pharmacist knew what I was thinking. She gave my wife the name of a medicine I could take to get over my addiction.
If I had been alone, I would have thrown her advice out of the window and just tried to get another prescription filled somewhere else. My wife is a tough woman, and she loves me, so she assisted me on my road to recovery.”
So how did Nadeem end up as a drug junky for just wanting to eliminate his pain? Many people suffering from arthritis, menstrual cramps, headaches, post-surgery pain management, and chronic back pain are just like Nadeem. An innocent pill has made them addicts and created dozens of other illnesses for them for which Western medicine has no solution. To answer this question, Ohio State University researchers did some digging and found that a popular ingredient found in most pain killers – acetaminophen – destroys positive emotions. It alters their emotional and evaluative processing, turning compassionate people into cold emotionless zombies. Prescription drugs containing aspirin have been known to increase one’s risk of heart failure, upper gastrointestinal complications, and easy bruising – leading to slow healing, poor blood circulation and maybe even gangrene.
In South Africa, nearly 45 percent of people seeking treatment for prescription medicine dependence reported the use of opioid-containing painkillers. “Much is said about the illegal opiate heroin, but dependency on over-the-counter medicines (including cough medicines) containing opiates like codeine is actually overtaking heroin,” says Dr Hash Ramjee, a specialist in substance abuse who works for the Houghton House group of treatment centres.
Codeine causes depressed breathing, which can be lethal in cases of overdose or combinations with other drugs. Combinations of codeine with other pills can also do serious damage to kidneys, liver and/or stomach. “Opioids slow down intestinal and bowel movements, creating a blockage,” explains Ramjee.
As per the enclosed leaflet contained in most painkillers, they should not be taken for more than 10 days. However, one of the first signs of addiction is becoming preoccupied with two things: when can you take your next dose and whether your supply is enough. You then start increasing the amounts your doctor prescribed. When your doctor refuses to prescribe more, you my even forge prescriptions and even seriously hurt yourself so you can be admitted to hospital just to get a new prescription! Very little difference then remains between you and an abuser of hard drugs.
But there is hope for victims. Remember that every time you pop a pill, it clogs up your liver for 60 days, and this makes the road to recovery more difficult. You need to realize that you have to STOP this habit, and gradually decrease the amount of pills over a period of time. There are many safer and more permanent measures of pain elimination, which will enable you to improve the quality of your life and your worship (ibaadat).
One of the best pain relievers is to do regular Cupping (Hijaamah) with a qualified therapist. Cupping is not only a Sunnah, but it rids the body of toxic blood in which pain and inflammation reside. Herbal mixtures, drinks and ointments made from natural capsaicin, ginger or turmeric help stop inflammation with no side effects at all. These herbs work by depleting substance P – a compound that conveys the pain sensation from the peripheral to the central nervous system. Holy Basil and Kava Kava are also excellent pain relievers. Then essential fish oils such as Cod Liver Oil and Omega 3 Fatty Acids breaks down into hormone-like chemicals called prostaglandins in the body, which also reduce inflammation.
These alternatives may take a little longer to produce results, but the results would be permanent. Have patience and go through with it. If not, your pain will be nothing but a source of continuing agony for you, and a source of easy income for the pharmaceutical companies. Remember, pain killers kill more than pain. They kill your spirit too.