'We are treated like junkies': Chronic back pain sufferer shamed over medication

A mum has revealed how friends and medical professionals have “pain shamed” her over taking opiates for debilitating, chronic back pain.

Penny Brand, from Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, first noticed the pain seven years ago when she was taking her three-month-old baby out of the car and recalls realising “something wasn’t right”.

The 36-year-old mother of two was forced to live with the intense pain for months and was unable to have any scans to find the cause as tests revealed she was pregnant again with her second child.

As soon as her daughter was born, Ms Brand had a scan which revealed she had a vertebrae slipping and pressing on the spinal column. She underwent surgery to fuse the vertebrae, but in the years since has experienced debilitating back pain and migraines.

“It’s incredibly hard and sometimes you just have to grin and bear it,” Mr Brand told Yahoo7.

Penny Brand (pictured with her daughters) first noticed pain a few months after giving birth to her first child. Photo: Supplied

The single mother said the only relief she has from the pain is from opiates, which have side effects including difficulty concentrating and drowsiness.

She has found some success with other treatments including acupuncture and physiotherapy, but these specialist treatments are not within her financial reach.

Ms Brand is also on a year-long public waiting list to see a pain specialist.

‘But, you don’t look sick!’

While dealing with the day-to-day struggle the chronic pain brings, Ms Brand has also found she has been “pain-shamed” on many occasions because of the strong drugs she takes.

She said not only do friends comment on the amount of opiates she takes, but has also experienced the negativity from medical professionals, including pharmacists.

“It’s embarrassing because you have to get a mountain of opiates sometimes,” she said.

Ms Brand said daily activities, including dropping her daughters at school, is challenging due to the pain. Photo: Supplied

“I’ve had all sorts of awful looks and comments and things like that from people in the medical industry because opiates are so frowned upon we are treated like junkies. But really we’re just trying to survive.”

National Pain Week survey, conducted by Chronic Pain Australia, found that 86 per cent of the respondents said they experience a negative stigma or attitude due to their chronic pain.

Another 98.6 per cent also said they did not feel the Australian Government was doing enough to support them.

Many of the 1200 respondents said they had experienced similar instances to Ms Brand where a family member, friend or boss had told them: “But you don’t look sick”.

The outcome of the survey found that participants wanted the wider community to be aware of what its like to live with chronic pain and to acknowledge its impact on their lives.