Yesterday, the leading story for the LA Times was about the influx of prescription drug related overdoses being treated in emergency rooms. It focused on the cost to the medical system as well as the increased accessibility to pain medications. The article called on the medical community to be more stringent in its prescribing and monitoring of these medications.
This is important but in no way is it new. The treatment and recovery community have been saying these things for years. Prescription drug overdoses have been the leading cause of death in the United States for the past two years. The Center for Disease Control declared the opiate crisis an “epidemic” in 2011. To see it on the front page of the LA Times three years later feels, in some ways, redundant.
Long gone are the days where the ‘typical’ opiate user is strung out on heroin trying to score from their dealer on the corner. These days, it’s the college baseball player with a shoulder injury whose opiate use stems from a prescription pad. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that opiates shouldn’t be used- they are appropriate for acute pain and there are longer-term options for cancer patients which I believe are incredibly important. However, these should be the exception rather than the default.
As a person in recovery, I recognize that someday I may need to use use pain medications after a surgery but these would be given to my sponsor or wife- someone to help keep me accountable. I know that I will need to discuss with my doctor that I have a history of addiction and am in recovery and urge the importance of my sobriety. That is my responsibility. However, I believe there is a responsibility for the medical community to educate themselves on the risk of prescribing opiates, the disease of addiction, and how dangerous these drugs can be when not used appropriately. There should be a system in place that monitors who, what, and how much a person is prescribed. This would help track which doctors are over-prescribing and which patients are abusing their prescriptions.
In the article, Andrew Kolodony- an addiction doctor, stated “…opiod overdose deaths are just the tip of an iceberg” and he’s right. Doctor shopping, med seeking behavior, and access to pain medications in 1 out of 5 homes are also important to examine. My hope is that the medical community, and society at large, move toward being more proactive so these overdose deaths do not occur.