Does Outright Speculation Make This Disabled Feminist Angry?

Answer: Yes.

Let’s talk about this piece-of-crap article recently published on that oh-so-“liberal” news n’ culture site, Salon.com. I’m prefacing this post with a warning for ableist language and concepts on the part of the article’s author, Rahul K. Parikh, M.D. The article begins as follows:

There was a time when a celebrity’s sudden death almost invariably meant illegal drugs…[a]nd so it seems with Brittany Murphy, the bubbly and bright actress who died of cardiac arrest at 32.

Yes, it seems. Point is, we don’t know much yet. There are other health-related issues or conditions that can lead to cardiac arrest, but is this acknowledged? Of course not! Parikh continues:

The coroner’s notes allegedly claim a pharmacopia in Murphy’s bathroom cabinet: Topamax (for seizures or migraines), methylprednisolone (a steroid), fluoxetine (an antidepressant), Klonopin (for anxiety), carbamazepine (for seizures or bipolar disorder), Ativan (for anxiety), Vicoprofen (pain reliever), propranolol (for hypertension, migraines or anxiety), Biaxin (an antibiotic), and hydrocodone (a narcotic pain reliever). Gone are the days of shameful crack pipes and empty gin bottles.

OH MY GOD, EVERYBODY PANIC.

Murphy’s medications, like those of [Heath] Ledger and Anna Nicole Smith, are on the shelves of your local drugstore, available with a simple trip to the doctor — or doctors — whom you merely need to convince that you need the stuff. Did one doctor prescribe her those meds? Did 10? We don’t yet know. But as a doctor myself, I just kept wondering (and not for the first time): What if doctors were more like librarians? Would Brittany Murphy still be alive?

Cue scary music! THE DANGER IS ON THE SHELVES OF YOUR LOCAL DRUGSTORE. Nevermind that people with chronic pain conditions and disabilities have to jump through numerous, often ridiculous hoops just to get, say, a month’s supply of medications that help them function and/or live life to the fullest extent possible. As one of these people, I am of the opinion that Parikh is being rather disingenuous here; these drugs, at least for us “average” folk with chronic pain issues, are usually not easy to obtain.

After nattering about how the medical field should follow the example of public libraries when it comes to monitoring people and their books meds, he continues:

One of the many negative consequences of such fragmentation is how ridiculously easy it can be to get drugs. Most doctors know patients who have desperately angled to get a prescription they don’t need, usually highly addictive pain medicines like Percocet or OxyContin. This is what we call “doctor shopping,” hopping from one physician to the next until they find someone willing to write a script. When the supply dries up, they go to another doctor, and then another. One 53-year-old man in California visited 183 doctors and 47 pharmacies in one year to support his addiction to painkillers.

Hey, nice use of anecdata there! What on earth does one 53 year-old guy in California have to do with Brittany Murphy’s situation? As for “most doctors” knowing a patient who has “angled” for meds they “don’t need” (who makes that judgement, I wonder?): cry me a goddamn river. The endless Helen Lovejoy-gasping about ADDICTION!!1 in fact makes it incredibly hard for some of us who need these medications to obtain them, and no amount of 1984-esque War is Peace anecdata–from someone, no less, who is supposed to help people in pain as part of his chosen occupation–is going to change that.

In short, the experiences of people with chronic pain are going be different than those of an able-bodied doctor, but nowhere is this acknowledged in this article–nor is it mentioned in many larger conversations about  painkillers and (possible) ADDICTION!!11.

Most of us who need these medications do not have the energy to doctor-shop. I do not wish to deny that painkiller addiction is a serious problem; it is, for some. Sadly, these sorts of “conversations” on the specter of supposedly widespread PAINKILLER ADDICTION!!!1–much like those focusing on the OBESITY CRISIS!!11–tend to focus entirely too much attention on extreme cases and anecdata, leaving out those who need these medications for legitimate medical reasons, and, I might add, some of whom spend a great portion of time proving said legitimacy in order to show that they are not addicts or doctor-shoppers.

But if “preventing” ADDICTION!11 in able-bodied people via endless hand-wringing about who “really” needs these drugs versus who doesn’t is the number one priority here, that is a problem. Yet again, the needs of those who are judged by society as most “important” or productive or fitting into able-bodied society are taken seriously, and the needs of those who do not fit this mold–because they need painkillers for actual pain and are therefore bad/unproductive/just a bunch of whiners–are ignored, or worse, actively shamed and castigated for things or circumstances that they cannot control.

And, as OuyangDan pointed out so eloquently on this very blog, there are a lot of things that we don’t know about Brittany Murphy’s death. Using her death as a poorly-researched, almost totally speculative “example” of the dangers of painkiller ADDICTION!!11 is not only tasteless, but it distracts from how ridiculously the concerns about painkillers, “legitimacy” and the specter of addiction are often framed by (mostly privileged) people who do not deal with these things in their daily lives.

Less infuriating: Many of the commenters seem to agree that this article and its “speculation” went too far, which is unusual for Salon commenters, as most of them tend to exemplify the worst of privileged white “liberalism” on a regular basis (as you would expect, this includes loads of abled privilege and the anecdata to back up their uninformed opinions).

12 Comments

  1. I am very distressed with the coverage I’m seeing about Murphy’s death on other sites besides this Salon one. The worst one was on another self-described “Feminist” blog… and I’m sure the site owner was once feminist a long lifetime ago, but the more I read of her blog… the more disgusted I become. The treatment Murphy received posthumously over there… and the greater implications for people with body image disorders (and those without) was appalling.

    Now as for this line, “As for “most doctors” knowing a patient who has “angled” for meds they “don’t need” (who makes that judgement, I wonder?): cry me a goddamn river. ” this one is probably my favorite line, since I’m running into that attitude a lot lately – certain famous people declaring that most people “Don’t need” meds and that by taking such meds, the few who genuinely *do* need them (a grudging admission) put everybody else at risk of… being given meds they don’t need at the doctor’s office. Um, maybe not make it about you? If you don’t need it you don’t need it, don’t make it all about you. Who died & made this person boss of what meds are necessary & for whom? Doesn’t the individual get some say in this? Or is the individual too brainwashed to make decisions or something?

    They’re worried about the marketing. I get it. They’re worried that people will be very sensitive to every little imperfection to the point where they think they need medication. But in my experience doctors don’t always pay attention to whatever little concern you have. Or every big concern. And you have to fight to get a prescription something, prove you need it somehow.
    .-= K´s last blog ..Interesting posts, weekend of 12/26 =-.

  2. Oh yes, getting those meds is SO EASY. That’s why I went undiagnosed as clinically depressed and having severe anxiety for YEARS and why I STILL can’t get a doctor to try to treat my chronic pain. Yup, easy as pie. And, not surprisingly, it’s the worry about ADDICTION!!11 that keeps doctors from willing to treat said pain.

    Anecdata, yes, but so’s his story.

  3. The same thing happened back when Heath Ledger died. I spent a lot of time correcting people who either decided that the medications found in his apartment were evil and nobody should ever take them, or that he was a drug addict. From what I read in interviews and such, he was deeply troubled by playing the role of the Joker and developed extreme insomnia. Having been to a point that I would do almost anything for a couple hours sleep, I can easily see taking the amount of medication he did out of sheer desperation.

    I don’t know the case with Murphy. The fact that numerous medications were found in her apartment means nothing. She could have been prescribed them at different times in hopes of finding something that would treat whatever issue she has. Not everyone throws medication away if they get switched; in fact, I’d think most people do not.

    I hate how people see that someone is on medication and died, and then assume that either there is something wrong with the medicine or that the person is a drug addict. It makes everything so much harder for those of us who need to be on these medications. I’ve actually had people tell me I need to have my doctor switch me away from Ambien or I’ll die like Heath did. *headdesk*

  4. The fact that numerous medications were found in her apartment means nothing. She could have been prescribed them at different times in hopes of finding something that would treat whatever issue she has. Not everyone throws medication away if they get switched; in fact, I’d think most people do not. We have a lot of expired medication in my house for this reason. It’s mostly antibiotics or antifungals now but there’s been painkillers someone stopped using & held onto “just in case.” I don’t know why we keep them for so long…
    .-= K´s last blog ..Interesting posts, weekend of 12/26 =-.

  5. Exactly, Nonny. A casual look through the meds in this house would include six different narcotic pain killers. Because Don had to try more than one. (And now has three that he takes regularly.)

  6. When I was on what I affectionately call my “med roulette” I held on to things because my doc would ask me if I still had it. She would tell me to just start that again. I also just simply didn’t throw things away, up until the one day that I did (long story). I think it is pretty common for people to not throw things away.

    Also, I think when celebrities, especially woman celebrities, run into drug problem — even if it is prescription — or any type of socially unacceptable behavior, the media has a field day with it. I have heard very little of Murphy’s private life until now, but all of a sudden she is some closet drug addict. When Heath Ledger died, we were told by the media to give his family respect… interesting the difference.

    Great piece, annaham!

  7. Oh lordy, the things they say about medications…psh.

    My neurologist a long time ago believed I didn’t need anything narcotic at all. HAH. I’ve been on one for a year and a half. Strange how my life improved and my ability to do things increased once I got halfway decent pain relief!

    It was heartache and headache the months of pain before I got to the pain specialist who believed me and in one visit turned my temporary dose and doubled it and made it long-term. He said that it was an innocuous dose of that prescription – the oh-so-maligned vicodin.

    It is frankly infuriating how few doctors are willing to actually treat pain or refer us to people who will. It was one of the things that really brought home to me that for other people, becoming a PWD is turning in your ‘human being’ card. Maybe we’ll get through to them someday.

    ~Kali
    http://www.brilliantmindbrokenbody.wordpress.com

  8. For gods’ sake. They don’t even have a toxicology report yet.

    And as far as I know, there’s no “epidemic” — or even a scintilla of evidence — of people abusing Topamax, Biaxin, propranolol (it’s a beta blocker, Dr. Vulture, you know that), methylprednisolone, or fluoxetine (aka Prozac).

    Only four of those drugs are even controlled substances at all, and hydrocodone is part of Vicoprofen, so it wouldn’t even show up in a tox report as a separate drug. And yeah, I have drugs in my house I don’t take any more because I just haven’t gotten around to tossing them yet. I guess I’d better not let them see the bottle of (gasp) dextroamphetamine that I use in small doses to counter the soporific qualities of Remeron. Or the clonazepam (Klonopin) I use maybe once or twice a month, in doses so tiny my pharmacist actually wondered if the instructions were a typo. (“One-sixteenth of a pill? Is that right?” “Yes, any more than that and I fall asleep.” “Oh.”) This prejudice that anyone who uses any controlled substance for more than 48 hours is a DOPE FIEND!!11!!! is total crap.

    And Dr. Clownshoes doesn’t even stop to think that celebrities (and other rich people) can get the scrips they need or want a lot more readily than the rest of us can. Or that men can get them a lot more readily than women, whose symptoms more often get written off as malingering. What he’s suggesting — that doctors have immediate computer access to all prescriptions that a patient has filled — might help them catch the few people who actually are prone to abuse and/or overdose, or might be dealing them on the black market.

    But if they can’t tell the difference between someone who’s mixing the drug with other drugs and/or alcohol for kicks (who more often than not raid someone else’s supply anyway, or buy it on the street), or stockpiling drugs for a deliberate OD, or taking way more than the maximal recommended amounts or rapidly escalating dosages, with someone who’s being very careful and conscious with the meds and (like you say) probably doesn’t have the energy to doctor-shop in the first place…geez. What are we paying them for, anyway?

  9. Guys, I’ve got a scrip for fluoxetine and we are gonna get fuuuuuucked uuuuuup! (In four to six weeks, after the onset of adverse side effects including but not limited to nausea, sleep problems, and anxiety.) Also it’ll cost you.

    …guys? Anyone?

  10. Is there any good (non-paternalistic) reason at all why there should be any more restriction on the supply of any drug than there is on that of aspirin or alcohol? If there is, i can’t see it (well, except for scarcity, i guess, but scarcity of anything that can be manufactured in a lab is pretty much entirely a social construct).

  11. This infuriates me.
    I did a lot of defending of Heath Ledger to people who had extremely uninformed opinions on his death (he was a drug addict! he was suicidal! he was taking them to make him insane so he could better perform as the Joker!). Of course, it’s a lot easier to parrot what you hear than to do any comparative analysis of your own.

    Cognizant of the fact that no toxicology report has been released and that people often do not dispose of meds once they finish taking them, I looked up the meds they listed. Out of 10, 3 have addictive potential: Ativan, Vicoprofen, and hydrocodone. Even if Murphey were taking them all at the same time, that doesn’t mean much. Shockingly, people can actually take meds that have addictive potential and yet not abuse them. People always seem to forget that.

    I’ve never known anyone who abused prescription medication they were prescribed, the meds they abused were always purchased from someone with a prescription or a third party. Similarly, I’ve only ever heard sensationalist stories in the media of “doctor shopping” in order to acquire the meds one abuses. I mean, I’m sure people do it but maybe I don’t have enough rich friends to hear personal anecdotes on the matter.

  12. Tlonista (sorry I don’t know how to make the oomlaut),
    Your comment was so great and it made me laugh out loud.
    Thank you for that!