“April Grove Doyle, a 40-year-old single mom with metastatic breast cancer, pulled her car to the side of the road. Her face was flushed and her eyes puffy from crying, but she looked into the phone mounted on her dashboard and pressed the record button.

“So, I’m just leaving my pharmacy,” she said, taking a breath to steady herself. “I’m not, I’m not—I’m frustrated, and that’s why I’m crying. I get pain pills, maybe every two, three months. Okay? I can make one monthly prescription of pain pills last two or three months because I don’t really take it unless I absolutely need it.

And when you have metastatic cancer in your bones, you need it. Because sometimes the pain is so much you can’t even function. And I just want to function.”

After another deep breath, Doyle explained: The pharmacist at her local Rite Aid pharmacy in Visalia, California, had berated her for her history of opioid prescriptions, then told her to come back later. She left without the refill, feeling that she was being treated like a criminal.

Like millions of other chronic pain patients around the country, Doyle is the collateral damage of the opioid abuse epidemic. About 17,000 people die each year in the United States from a prescription opioid overdose. Fifty million Americanssuffer from chronic pain—one-fifth of the adult population—including 20 million who have what’s called high-impact chronic pain, or pain that frequently limits their daily life.

The campaign to keep opioids away from people who abuse them has ended up punishing the people who use them legitimately—even torturing them to the point of suicide. Now they are pushing back, mobilizing as best they can into a burgeoning civil rights movement. “Don’t Punish Pain” rallies are taking place in cities nationwide on May 22, and pain patients are organizing a protest at the Centers for Disease Control and Preventionin Atlanta on June 21.”

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