The Challenges of Using Opioids to Manage Crisis Pain

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by Mary Shaniqua |

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I have been experiencing a lot of pain lately due to sickle cell crises. I previously wrote that my crises have started to correlate with my menstrual cycle, but I’m now experiencing them daily. Admittedly, I’m not experiencing the worst pain ever, as I’ve been able to manage them at home without being hospitalized. 

Although it’s extremely annoying to constantly be in pain, I try not to complain too much because I know things could be far worse, given my medical history. But I do need to offload every now and then. 

The bigger issue, however, is that the only way for me to manage a crisis is by taking opioids. At home, I take codeine phosphate, oxycodone (both immediate-release and slow-release), and morphine. Can I just say that I hate them all? Don’t get me wrong, they do bring my pain levels down, which is great, but each also comes with a range of awful side effects. 

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The side effects I usually experience are nausea, sedation, dizziness, and slowed breathing. These symptoms usually last well into the next day, which affects my ability to work and to socialize. The effects are harsh for me; they are some of the most difficult things I deal with as a sickle cell patient. Every time I experience crisis pain, I have a seesaw moment as I try to determine which is worse: the pain, or the potential side effects of the opioids. 

I am also conscious of the potential long-term effects of these drugs. Because of the stigma attached to sickle cell, I am acutely aware that opioids can create a physical dependence. One of the pain medications I take has even been linked to the opioid epidemic in the U.S.

I don’t want to experience opioid dependence because I know it will not only affect my quality of life, but likely also how I am treated by medical personnel in the hospital, which could be detrimental to my care. This is a big worry for me. I know that if I take these strong opioids daily for crisis pain, I could experience real problems with addiction in the future. 

I wish there were more natural or drug-free remedies I could use to alleviate crisis pain. I have an electric blanket that I try to utilize, but it doesn’t stop the pain altogether — it just takes it down a notch, allowing me to find a comfortable position. Someone once suggested CBD oil massages, but due to my medication regimen, I am unable to use CBD.

Do you use any natural remedies to help you through a pain crisis? Please share in the comments below.


Note: Sickle Cell Disease News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Sickle Cell Disease News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to sickle cell disease.


Beverly Milon avatar

Beverly Milon

This article was so well written, thank you for being so real, honest about sickle cell disease / pain, I wish I could have you to speak at one of our Sickle Cell Conferences. Thank you, God's Blessings on your life.

Beverly Milon, Sickle Cell Care Coordinator
Beacon Health System

Mary Shaniqua avatar

Mary Shaniqua

Thank you for your kind words. More than happy to speak at one of you conferences.


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