“I got it from a doctor, so it must be safe. Right?”
Unfortunately, no. One of the most common misconceptions in society today is that when a doctor prescribes a drug, it’s safe. The statistics tell a different story, though. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that more people die from a prescription drug abuse related overdoses than car accidents in the U.S. each year – and that the number of fatal overdoses from prescription painkiller addiction to such drugs as Oxycontin and Vicodin is more than double the number from cocaine and heroin combined.
Because of this growing epidemic of prescribed drug abuse, physicians are speaking out, calling for more awareness of the issue and steps to prevent tragedies from occurring.
A Call for Change
Some of the changes that doctors want to see include:
- Reduced prescriptions for potentially addictive drugs: The perception is that some doctors are prescribing addictive drugs when other alternatives are available, without a true need for the drug. Doctors are calling for more education about these drugs and how and when to prescribe them.
- More investigation: In 2011, Conrad Murray, the physician treating pop star Michael Jackson when he died, was tried and convicted for improper prescriptions. Concerned physicians are calling for greater physician accountability when any patient dies from an overdose; not just high-profile celebrities.
- Denial of payment: Large insurance companies often pay for multiple prescriptions for the same drug when written by multiple doctors, allowing patients to access large quantities of drugs to either sell illegally or overdose on. Doctors are calling for more controls that would prevent insurers from paying for these drugs.
- Development of a database: In some states, doctors are calling for the development of statewide – and eventually nationwide—databases that would flag patients with a history of “shopping” doctors for prescriptions, getting multiple prescriptions for the same drug and a history of improper handling of drugs, and prescription drug abuse.
Calling for these changes does not mean that doctors think that prescription painkillers are completely unsafe. In fact, it should be noted that millions of people use these drugs every day and never develop a painkiller addiction. Even so, it’s important for physicians to take precautions when prescribing these drugs to ensure that they are used properly.
What Doctors Can Do
The fight against prescription drug abuse and painkiller addiction can, and should, start at the source: doctors. Whenever a physician writes a prescription, he or she needs to take precautions to protect the patient and prevent abuse. Doctors should;
- Be clear about the dangers: In some cases, doctors may write a prescription, hand it to the patient with a cursory reminder about the potential dangers of the drug and move on, assuming that the patient will do his or her own research. Doctors have a responsibility to inform patients about the drugs they’re being prescribed and need to take a few moments to explain what the drug does, the possible side effects and the dangers of using it improperly.
- Use stories and statistics to educate: When prescribing a potentially addicting drug, doctors need to explain this risk of prescription drug abuse to the patient – and use statistics. Fear is a powerful motivator and using the frightening statistics of prescribed drug abuse can help prevent addiction or an overdose. Patients need to be aware of the consequences of prescription drug abuse, including death.
- Exploring the alternatives: Not every patient is a candidate for prescription painkillers. Doctors need to be thorough when working with patients, exploring all the possible causes and treatment options without immediately resorting to powerful drugs. Doctors should emphasize the fact that most patients get better in time without drugs. Provide other options for pain relief.
- Limit the length of time for the patient to take drugs: Studies indicate that patients taking drugs for longer than eight weeks do not show any measurable improvement in their function and pain relief. However, because it’s faster to write a prescription than it is to explain why the patient should stop taking the drugs, many doctors just write another slip, enabling the prescribed drug abuse and increasing the chance that the patient will end up with a lifelong addiction.
The first step to ending the epidemic of prescription drug abuse in the U.S. is to make changes to the source of the drugs: the doctors. It’s a physician’s responsibility to educate patients and make responsible choices when writing prescriptions, and with these changes in place, the number of patients suffering from prescription drug abuse and painkiller addiction is bound to decrease.
This guest post article was written and provided by Gregg Gustafson who is a freelance writer and consultant for Drug-Rehab.org. Gustafson works with individuals who suffer from drug abuse, in turn referring them to some of the most prestige long term drug rehab centers active today.