Prescription painkiller abuse continues to be a growing problem. We hear the statistics regularly about how many deaths are caused by prescription drug abuse, and the need for more regulation. Patient advocacy groups would like us all to remember, however, that prescription pain pills do serve a very important purpose for many people living with chronic pain.
Overprescribing Pain Pills
Prescription painkiller addiction affects millions of Americans. Some people start out taking the pills legitimately, with a doctor’s prescription, because of real pain. Others set out to abuse the drugs right away. The pills are highly addictive, and can easily cause a dependence. “There’s no question in my mind that we are in the middle of an epidemic,” Andrew Kolodny, an addiction specialist, says. “This over promotion of opioids for treating chronic pain by the pharmaceutical companies and their representatives is causing the disease of addiction, and patients are dying.” (1)
Pill mills and their prescribing doctors have further added to the problem with their overprescribing and carelessness. Now, as the government begins stepping in and regulating prescriptions more closely, things are getting tougher for patients with chronic pain.
Managing Chronic Pain
Millions of people in our country suffer from chronic pain. These people have relied upon prescription painkillers to just make it through each pain-filled day. The question many people are forgetting to ask as we work to stop the prescription drug abuse epidemic is, what about these people? How does someone who requires high doses of opioids to take their pain away make sure they can keep getting their meds?
One chronic pain patient says about pain pills that “doctors are afraid to prescribe them, or they think I am an addict. It’s insane and extremely depressing. I live constantly in fear of either getting a totally debilitating headache or of running out of meds. I have finally found a drug regimen that allows me to function – yet I am treated like a criminal.” (1)
Doctors Treating Pain Responsibly
Many doctors are afraid to prescribe painkillers for an extended period of time, or at high doses, because doing so puts a target on their back. “Chronic pain patients require more care, and more drugs. So physicians are much more reluctant to treat them,” journalist Maia Szalavitz says. “If you take on more chronic pain patients, you’re prescribing more opioids overall, and that’s what raises the suspicions of investigators.” (1) Many good, responsible doctors are scared out of prescribing pain management pills because they do not want all the baggage that goes along with it.
While it is imperative to stop the flow of prescription painkillers to addicts looking to get high, it is important that we see the other side of prescription painkillers also. We need to be effective in regulating prescriptions, but find ways to ensure that those who justifiably need pain relief can get it.