By On October 30th, 2012

Doctors’ Dilemma Prescribing Opioids to Addicts

Pills bottle spilled

In the past decade, the number of new abusers of opioids has increased more than 200-percent. Opioid abuse has been labeled an epidemic, but it requires large-scale re-education and adjustment of the medical community to improve.

For those outside of the issue, it seems like it would be simple for doctors to stop prescribing medication to addicts. However, there are a number of contributing factors that physicians must consider.

Today’s culture allows consumers of any industry to rank and criticize the service they’ve received. This is especially true of medicine where patients can affect a doctor’s job standing and reimbursement by filling out a negative survey or using one of many websites to rate their experience.

Medicine is also a business. Especially in an emergency room setting, doctors are expected to see as many patients as possible and the length of visits is generally completely overlooked. With this in mind, it is clear why so many doctors opt to prescribe opioids to patients they suspect of abusing them. That prescription is much faster than investigating and treating addiction and also garners the doctor a positive review.

In 2001, California took a vital step to improving the situation when their Medical Board began requiring licensed physicians to take a course on “pain management”. Education is extremely important, but without the necessary changes in culture, it could actually exacerbate the problem. A companion course on addiction that could instruct physicians to treat addiction much the same as other chronic illnesses could be a big help.

As Dr. Anna Lembke writes for the New England Journal of Medicine, doctors need to learn new strategies for dealing with addiction. There are ways to treat those patients effectively without taking up too much time.

Lembke suggests that, in order to truly enact change, “public and legal censure” of failure to treat addiction needs to be equal to the censure of failing to treat pain.

In the end, the patients are the ones who suffer as they continue to receive the wrong treatment for their ailment.

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