The Real “Opioid” Crisis Lies in Communication
The doctor greeted the young man cheerfully after the surgery to repair his broken leg. He was just seventeen years old and fearful that his baseball days were over. “I will give you something for the pain” the doctor said. “Just take two tablets every four to six hours as needed. I will give you enough for a week.
At the end of the week, the student told his mother he was still in pain, and she called the doctor to get more medication.
The simplest path to opioid addiction.
When a patient is given pain medication and the term opioid is not used, the patient (or their family) may not recognize the dangers of addiction or its correlation with pain medication. Patients have the right to know that they may be getting an opioid which can be addicting. There is no consent form that describes how a person’s medication might cause addiction and severe enough side effects that the media are calling it an epidemic.
According to the CDC, over 70% of drug overdose deaths in 2019 involved an opioid. 136 people die each day from an opioid overdose.
As long ago as 2012, health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioid pain medication, enough for every adult in the United States to have a bottle of pills.
This isn’t a message about blame, but it is a message about communication between a clinician and the patient and the importance of having an advocate — whether a family member or friend — to be up to the challenge of questioning medication.
For years, efforts to address the “opioid crisis” have focused on helping people who are already addicted. Yet we are in a position, I believe, to stop this crisis from reaching the next generation by having clinicians use the word “opioid” or “addiction” when prescribing pain medication.
Imagine the doctor saying to that young man and his mother, “I can give you something for the pain. It is an opioid so can become addicting. Take only when absolutely necessary and if you can, avoid taking it at all. I suggest you try another pain medication first such as a non-aspirin over-the-counter pain reliever.”
I consider myself fairly educated but when I was given pain medication after surgery, I was glad the doctor didn’t say he was prescribing an “opioid” because I thought opioid was the name of the medication. Being given a prescription for Vicodin or Oxycodone seemed much safer, since I didn’t know that these medications were actually opioids. Opioid is actually a class of medication.
The term opioid is used in the media and in research and not commonly used in the doctor’s office or between patient and clinician. So, if you are advocating for someone or getting pain medication for yourself or a family member, ask if it’s an opioid so you can make an educated decision.
Ilene Corina, BCPA
President, Pulse Center for Patient Safety Education & Advocacy