Victoria Stopp tells me that, right before my call, she had just finished a run—something her pain-management doctors had told her might not be possible without medication.
“When you’re young and healthy, you don’t expect to have lifelong health problems at all,” she says. “After years of treatment, I just refused to keep doing things the conventional way.”
In 2007, Stopp suffered a severe neck injury. She worked as an emergency medical technician in Pensacola, Florida, where she still lives with her wife, Rhonda. The pain became so intense that she went “from playing soccer and working 24-hour shifts on an ambulance to barely turning my head.”
She chronicled her pain-management journey in a new book, Hurting Like Hell, Living with Gusto: My Battle with Chronic Pain.
Her book is both a critical look at contemporary pain treatment and a hopeful message to chronic-pain suffers to “take their power back.”
“People who do get hurt or do get sick feel empowered to seek their own answers,” she says.
She described how, after her injury, she was prescribed painkillers that masked her pain for months and months—but never actually healed her injury. She finally sought out second opinions and alternative treatments like acupuncture and physical therapy.
“I did what the doctors said, and nothing changed for me,” she says. “I’d come home with bottles of painkillers and muscle relaxers. It just didn’t work for me. After I started taking control of my pain and seeking out solutions for my health, I took the bottles back to the pharmacy.
Stopp released her book at a time when painkiller addiction is becoming an increasingly deadly trend in the U.S. The National Center for Health Statistics recently found that U.S. life expectancy fell for the second year in a row due primarily to opioid addiction and “drug overdose mortality.”
In 2015, LGBT people were found to be more than twice as likely to suffer from a drug addiction to prescription painkillers than heterosexuals.
Says Stopp: “It is outrageous how easy it is to get a habit when a doctor prescribes something. You don’t think it’s wrong. When you buy a drug on the street, you know what you’re doing is wrong.”
However, Stopp doesn’t want to point the finger only at doctors. She believes the pain-addiction pandemic can be blamed on a system-wide failure in American health care.
“It’s easy to blame this person or that person,” she says. “Take insurance coverage. Most plans will cover painkillers, but don’t offer coverage for therapy. I could pay $10 for addictive pain meds, but have to pay $80 out-of-pocket for a good massage.”
Her story’s message isn’t to do exactly what she did, nor is she prescribing one method over the other. Instead, she encourages patients treated for chronic pain to question what works best for their body and not blindly risk an addiction.
“There are all sorts of answers out there,” she says. “You can’t be afraid to take your power over your body back.”
Hurting Like Hell, Living With Gusto: My Battle with Chronic Pain is available on Amazon.