Turning Overdose into a Life-Saving Opportunity
Every day, our emergency rooms receive scores of people struggling with opioid addiction — either in a severe withdrawal or near death due to an overdose.
Government agencies are trying to contain these opioid-related emergency cases from escalating with new laws that restrict opioid prescriptions. Patients who are seeking immediate relief from pain issues might see a change in what type of medication they will receive, the dosages they are given and even the type of physician who will treat them.
The three-day limit on most narcotic prescriptions has caused some panic among current opioid users. It is essential to understand that these new restrictions are for acute pain management. Additionally, physicians have the freedom to reassess each patient’s condition at the end of the three or seven-day period for further prescriptions. Also, patients suffering from chronic, long-term and debilitating pain conditions are not subject to the same prescription limitations. These laws were designed with the intent to reduce overdoses. Also, they are trying to encourage doctors to prescribe strong medications only to take the edge off the immediate, intense pain and hopefully choose alternative medicines for long-term therapy.
What About Opioid-Dependent Patients?
Pain patients relied on their physicians for years to provide them with relief from painful conditions so that they can have a better quality of life. Now patients find themselves physically dependent on opioid drugs, still feeling pain and, worst of all, feeling a sense of abandonment. Without their opioid prescriptions, pain patients might become desperate and physically ill. Not only will they have to find new ways to control pain issues, but now they also have to deal with opioid withdrawal.
Patients all over the country are feeling lost, scared and don’t know where to turn. They seek prescriptions on the internet, through friends and even the streets. Consequently, buying unknown substances to prevent withdrawal, places them high risks of health risks and even overdose.
ERs are not prepared to handle the opioid crisis
The ER is where emergency personnel takes people suffering from overdoses or other opioid-related physical ailments. Drug treatment in the ER is focused only on taking care of the immediate emergency at hand; which is entirely understandable, as this is an “emergency” room.
However, the truth is that in a moment of crisis, our opportunities and resources need to be better used. We need to use this small window of opportunity to guide the individual in receiving adequate treatment. We need to extend the medical services and help the patient instead of placing a temporary Band-Aid on the situation.
We also need to remember that underneath this cycle of addiction there is a human being; a human being struggling with significant emotional distress. The exhaustion of the continuous drug addiction leads to stress, depression, anxiety which drives people to a more intense need to self-medicate. Most opioid users are not seeking to get high; they are seeking relief.
Although there are cases where people develop an opioid dependence due to an injury, surgery or chronic pain, there is also another population which has also been stricken in the opioid epidemic, young adults. Young adults feel extreme anxiety, insecurities and peer pressure . Combining these factors with curiosity and developing brains, young adults a become particularly vulnerable to alcohol and opioid abuse.
The opportunity in the ER
When patients are taken to an ER for an overdose, health care providers have an opportunity not just to save someone’s life but additionally change someone path. Although staff, resources and time are limited inside emergency rooms, more help can and should be provided. Drastic times call for drastic measures. Emergency Rooms are located in hospitals, with a vast number of resources. At a hospital, doctors can manage an opioid withdrawal and achieve complete detoxification. Also, if the emergency personnel already gave patients Naloxone at the time of the overdose, the detoxification process is already initiated.
Once opioid-free, mental health care professionals have a much clearer picture of who the patient is and what help they might need. To summarize, the overdose might provide the opioid users with an opportunity to receive adequate diagnosis and treatment guidance.
People want to be heard, seen and to be understood. They also want to be cared for, and treated as unique human beings and not as a disease. I am only asking that we stop doing the same thing that has never worked. We should start using our resources in the best way possible and guide these patients into receiving the physical and emotional care they so desperately need.