'Treating Pain Amidst the Opioid Crisis,' annual pain symposium sheds light on personal struggles

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WATERVILLE, Maine (WABI) - 'Treating Pain Amidst the Opioid Crisis' - that was the focus of the annual Maine Pain Symposium at Thomas College in Waterville.

Health care providers heard from experts and patients to better understand the opioid crisis, how to practice under new opioid rules, and to address pain from a whole person perspective.

"I had this idea that I would be Supermom and that I would be a nurse that ended up making differences in ways I didn't even know yet. And that is gone now."

Lindsey Murphy of South Portland was born with a birth defect and diagnosed with MRSA in 1985, which eventually led to Crohn's disease.

The pain became so overwhelming, she had to give up her nursing job two years ago. While daily activities are often a struggle, she says her friends and family, whom she calls her guardian angels, have helped her cope with her chronic pain.

"It's incredibly frustrating, but don't let it overwhelm you - just ante up that courage, which is really hard to do sometimes because nobody wants to be perceived as weak," said Murphy.

Like Lindsay, Julie Taylor found the courage to share her story with health providers at the 21st annual symposium hosted by the Maine Hospice Council and Center for End of Life Care.

"Basically my muscles are deteriorating," said Taylor.

Julie was diagnosed with dermatomyositis 17 years ago, which forced her to leave her job as a police officer in Veazie.

"Sometimes you just find your niche in life and that was mine. I found my passion and I wish I could go back. I'd go back tomorrow," said Taylor.

Her medication has been limited following new opioid legislation, and she's had a difficult time escaping judgement from doctors despite her constant pain.

"They think you're a pill seeker or an addict."

Three weeks ago, she switched medications and has seen improvement.

Dr. John Woytowicz says he often has patients seeking alternative medicines to treat chronic pain and detailed the benefits he's seen when cannabis is prescribed as opposed to opioids.

"Most people feel that the side effects of a variety of pharmaceuticals, including narcotics, don't give them adequate pain relief or they don't like the side effects. Most of the time, side effects from marijuana are much more desirable and people have a better quality of life," said Dr. Woytowicz, Integrated Medicine, Maine Dartmouth Family Practice Residency.

Despite the struggles both Lindsay and Julie continue to face, they recommend to those suffering from pain to continue seeking medications that work for the individual patient and to keep friends and family close.

"A hard choice to make but know that you have more than you think you do," said Murphy.

"Don't give up because it's a lonely road, and it's a scary road when you're alone," said Taylor.