I’m a POW in the “War on Drugs”

Photo by Selena Morar on Unsplash

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Douglas Hughes, Guest Columnist, Pain News Network

If you can hear the muffled sound of champagne being uncorked by lawmakers viewing my image, it’s no mistake. They have ignored my cries for help for a number of years, along with those of millions of other intractable pain sufferers.

I am 69 years old and have lost over forty pounds since August 2018. I am 6’2” and weigh 139 pounds, less than I did in eighth grade.

I cannot get anyone to care for me medically. I eat all the time, something else is wrong.  I had to change my primary care provider just to get a simple eye exam, the kind you do in a hallway. When tested, I could only see the top “E” with one eye. I had rapid-advancing cataracts.  

My picture is reality!  We have been so stigmatized and basic medical treatment denied to us, while the opioid pain therapies which kept us alive were abruptly taken away to profit from our deaths. 

Does my image impart distress? If not, you may hold the fortitude and inhumanity required for public office today. In West Virginia, elected officials still believe the opioid crisis is a due to a single drug — prescription opioids — diverted from a single source: pain clinics.


We have done nothing morally or legally wrong to deserve the horrendous lack of basic civility that you would show a wretched animal. I frequently relate my desire to be treated as a dog. Not in humor, but for the compassion that a dog would get if it was suffering like I am. 

The federal government has gone to extraordinary measures to brutalize the functionally disabled for personal enrichment and fiduciary windfall for programs like Medicare, Veterans Affairs, Workers Compensation, Medicaid, private retirements plans and others.

The largest windfall is to health insurance companies, which reap immense savings by curtailing the lingering lives of their most costly beneficiaries, the elderly and disabled. 

You May Be Next

Since the Vietnam War, there have been many advances in emergency medicine. More people are saved each year, yet left in constant pain. In the blink of an eye, you could become one. A car wreck, botched surgery or numerous health conditions can leave you with chronic or intractable pain.  

My image is a warning. I didn’t become the person you see until the government intervened in the pain treatment I was getting for 25 years. This was under the guise of a well-orchestrated effort by many state and federal agencies. 

The Drug Enforcement Administration has been the most prolific in this coordinated, decades-long effort.  In 2005, I witnessed them investigate and close a pain clinic where I was a patient.

My doctor was at the top of his field, a diagnostic virtuoso of complicated pain conditions.  He himself suffered from one pain condition of which I was aware.  No drug seeker could ever pass themselves off as a legitimate pain sufferer in his practice, yet he was harassed and forced to close because of assumptions of opioid overprescribing asserted by medically untrained law enforcement.      

It was my great fortune to have him diagnose the crushing injury in my torso and hips after twelve years of suffering.  He and two other pain specialists said I was “one of the most miserable cases” they had ever seen.

The loss of this and other outstanding professionals has repercussions even today. New doctors being trained are misled to believe the doctor-patient relationship is nonexistent. It was sacrificed to special interest greed and the conflagration of a drug crisis that will never end until that relationship is restored.

How easily has the public been misled to believe all physicians became irresponsible at the same time by treating pain conditions incorrectly with opioids? Now we have law enforcement dictating what pain treatment is appropriate. It is nonsensical at best and unimaginably inhumane at its heart.

My picture is the culmination of this government-standardized pain treatment and its consequences.  If heed is not taken immediately by the medical profession, lawmakers and society at large, you may be next to choose between suicide or emaciation.

Killing functionally disabled intractable pain sufferers like me, or non-responsive elderly in hospitals, will not stop opioid addiction, drug diversion or overdose deaths. It will however leave you a skeleton, praying for help like a prisoner of war.

Only the hearts of tyrants and fools see anything redeeming in that.

Douglas Hughes is a disabled coal miner and retired environmental permit writer in West Virginia. He recently ended his candidacy for governor due to health issues.

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