The Quick Fix
We trust our physicians to help the patients who come to them seeking care and pain relief. We trust them to make wise, thoughtful choices about the care they will offer patients. After all, the most important tenet of the medical field is to do no harm. There are few things more harmful and destructive than addiction. Yet many patients leave the emergency room with a prescription for opioid painkillers in hand. And while there is always hope for recovery, the goal should be patients receiving the care they need without the risk of dependency on these medications.
Since 1999, prescriptions for opioids quadrupled. Deaths due to drug overdose have also quadrupled in this time period; sixty percent of these overdoses involve opioid drugs. This calls into question the practice of prescribing drugs such as oxycodone, morphine, and fentanyl.
Studies that attempt to shed light on these practices show no uniform practice among doctors, especially those prescribing medications to ER patients. Some doctors don’t regularly prescribe opioid painkillers to their patients; however, doctors who do regularly prescribe these medications do so with a quarter of all patients. That’s an incredible number of people on the road to dependency and possible overdose—sometimes only to treat a minor fracture!
Can Practice Make Perfect?
These prescribing practices also present an inevitable dilemma when patients receive follow-up care. Many primary care physicians and after-care specialists use the initial prescription as a guideline. Patients receive a low quantity of opioid painkillers in the initial ER visit, but receive a six-month prescription during routine follow-ups.
Some doctors have caught on to this unsustainable practice and are taking more caution when treating patients. Communication and information are vital in fighting the current opioid epidemic. When doctors know what their peers are doing, the disparity in practice is reduced and we move closer to consistency and uniformity in prescribing medication.
Do No Harm
Opioid medications breed an addiction that’s usually much more daunting than the injury for which the patient initially seeks care. Seen as a quick fix to acute pain, these painkillers pose the risk of making the current opioid epidemic worse. There is no quick fix for the patient who becomes dependent and the path to rehabilitation and recovery is a long one. Physicians are at the forefront of curbing the current epidemic. First, in doing no harm, they should be inclined to keep their patients free from addiction altogether.
By Alex Cruzatt
Alex Cruzatt loves food and words and hates cliches. That being said, she lives in the City of Angels with her husband, a dog, and a bird.
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