Imagine relying on prescription painkillers for serious, chronic pain. Then imagine how you’d feel if others – even your doctor – started to question your motives and label you a ‘problem user.’
Unfortunately, this is only one example of the fallout that stems from a crackdown that’s taking place across America – the target being prescription painkillers. Some doctors are asking patients to sign painkiller contracts, promising not to misuse, abuse or share their medication.
Some legitimate pain patients are being left behind by doctors unwilling to accept new patients. Some physicians are just too scared they could be held accountable. And many family practice doctors are able to prescribe potent narcotic painkillers but don’t because they lack the necessary level of understanding for some patients’ complicated chronic pain issues.
How Did It Get To This?
There’s no doubt that something drastic needs to happen to stop the growing epidemic that has led to numerous cases of opiate addiction, overdose and accidental deaths. Drugs such as OxyContin have become notorious in recent years for ruining the lives of everyday people, celebrities, young people and those who prescribe them.
Some doctors, pharmacists and nurses fall prey to the lure of prescription opiates, and they have access to the drugs and prescription pads needed to get them. The number of doctors being prosecuted for drug offenses is up. Charges related to prescribing practices that contribute to overdose deaths are also up.
Overprescribing by doctors seems to be getting worse, as drug companies ratchet up their marketing dollars and provide incentives for doctors who move their meds and prescribe – oftentimes – outside labeling recommendations.
Dependence Vs. Addiction: Knowing The Difference
Complicating the matter is a general lack of understanding about what constitutes opiate dependence and opiate addiction. Long-term pain patients who suffer with complicated and degenerative diseases often end up on prescription opiates. Because of the way the body reacts to these drugs, a tolerance will likely develop, requiring higher dosages to get the same relief.
At some point, people who use opiates regularly will become physically dependent. This is characterized by the presence of withdrawal symptoms when use is stopped or tapered. They will suffer the physical effects of opiate withdrawal such as goose bumps, aches and pains, stomach cramps and flu-like symptoms. But that doesn’t mean they’re addicted.
Opiate addiction is characterized by the presence of both physical and psychological dependence. Abuse is one of the hallmarks of opiate addiction. Signs include running out of medication too soon, doctor shopping to secure large quantities of pills, prescription fraud, etc.
Suffering Often Unbearable For Patients Who Can’t Find A Doctor To Treat Them
Another problem facing chronic pain patients is the burden of finding another doctor to treat them when their doctor stops prescribing narcotics or has his or her license suspended for inappropriate practices.
For many patients, a lapse in pain management involves suffering on two fronts – untreated chronic pain from an injury or illness and the discomfort of having to confront withdrawal.