November 3, 2017

Doctors or Dealers: Who’s to Blame for Opioid Epidemic

According to a recent Washington Post editorial, the irony of the opioid epidemic is that the drugs that are mainly at fault, including opioid painkillers, do not always come from drug dealers. Rather, blame can be attributed to the physicians who fill prescriptions for opioid painkillers, and these prescriptions often do not undergo heavy regulation.

One case in point is opioid painkillers prescribed for clients who suffer from chronic pain.

Often frustrated physicians don’t have a long-term solution to finding the cause of persistent pain, so prescribing OxyContin, hydrocodone and other opiate painkillers seems to be the easier way to go. What happens is that chronic pain clients run the risk of opiate addiction.

One female physician expressed her dilemma about prescribing opioid painkillers to her clients, including one 86-year-old woman who suffers from dementia, diabetes, arthritis and an arrhythmia. For the arrhythmia, the woman takes warfarin, which is a powerful blood thinner. For her arthritis, which causes severe pain in her knees, the physician prescribes an opioid painkiller.

Every time the elderly client visits her doctor, the woman brings her homemade gifts.

The physician is in a serious dilemma because she is aware that the combination of the painkillers and the warfarin can cause the patient to have a severe brain bleed.

What’s complex about this situation is that the opiate painkiller allows this elderly woman a chance to cook, garden and enjoy being with her grandchildren. When she is in pain, she sobs and rocks back and forth in in her rocking chair, a lonely figure in utter despair.

Every time this woman shows up at her office for an appointment, the doctor finds herself in a qaundary.  What is the answer to this problem?  she thinks.

As a doctor, she took an oath to alleviate suffering.

But she also took a vow to not cause her patients’ harm.

On a daily basis, 46 individuals die from prescription drug overdose.

By the year 2012, health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for painkillers. If the prescriptions were distributed nationwide, amajority of Americans would each end up with one bottle of opiate pills.

And you know what’s frightening about that image?

If those Americans ingested those pills, by taking more of the prescription than needed, some might get addicted, and seek refills. This could lead to some individuals trying to get heroin from dealers. Heroin is a cheaper fix, and for those who can’t get refills from doctors, well, dope is often the next fix.

Unlike the physician who is full of inner conflict, the dealers did not take any oaths to prevent their clients from harm. Nor the dealers care about their clients’ welfare. It’s all business to them, and lately some dealers mix more toxic opiates in the heroin, to create more supply for an ever-increasing demand.

Besides providing pain relief, opioids give users a sense of euphoria. That’s one perk, for a person who lives with debilitating pain, and who might just sit in front of the TV all day, because movement hurts too much. And lets face it. Binge watching a show on Netflix is probably not the healthiest activity for chronic pain clients. And being on Facebook, and seeing healthier friends posting pictures of themselves on vacations, can lead to feelings of severe depression.

Users develop a tolerance to the drug, which means that they require a higher amount of the opiate just to get the same level of relief and bliss.

Oddly enough, there appear to be more cases of people with chronic pain in this country, and perhaps that might be due to factors including dramatic changes in weather and weight gain.  And depression can be a culprit when it comes to weight gain.  Depression sometimes causes people to eat more.

Weight gain adds more pressure on joints and bones.

And the weather causes more cases of chronic pain, specifically for those with arthritis.

While there are factors that add to physical suffering, WebMD reports that there are also myths revolving around chronic pain, including the concept that bed rest is a good idea. While some doctors prescribe bed time-outs for chronic pain clients, along with the opiate painkillers, lying in bed (or watching TV) for a long period of time is detrimental. When a person is inactive, he or she will experience more pain upon getting out of bed. Another myth is that pain occurs when a person gets older. That’s not true.  While the body does change with age that does not mean that every senior citizen is going to experience chronic pain. There are many healthy seniors out there who have fit and healthy figures. Some jog, some attend yoga classes, others paint, and many of them have an optimistic attitude towards like, with the belief that “age is a number.”

Being around these people, of whom some are in recovery, is an inspiring and beautiful experience.

Needless to say, it is crucial to consult a doctor if suffering from chronic pain. According to WebMD, not all chronic pain clients get addicted to their painkillers, as long as they take them as prescribed.  In some cases, it’s also good to get a second opinion.

But there are individuals who become addicted, and for them, life can become a nightmare.

At that point, it might be good to look at alternatives.

For chronic pain, one alternative treatment, which is rapidly gaining popularity, is transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, or a TENS Machine, which looks like a tiny iPad or a cell phone. The machine is hooked to a series of electrodes, resembling white gauze pads, which are put on the skin. The electrodes are connected to wires hooked to the machine. A low-voltage electrical charge is administered. While results are inconsistent, this little machine brings relief to those who suffer from arthritis, spinal cord injury, fibromyalgia, diabetes nerve damage, and after-surgery pain.

For opiate addiction, it’s important to get clinical, evidence-based therapy for the substance abuse disorder, as well as treatment for any co-occurring disorders including depression and anxiety.

And perhaps instead of focusing on the problem and blaming the doctors, as well as the dealers, let’s find a solution.

At Cycles of Change Recovery Services, we offer clinical, evidence-based treatment for clients suffering from opiate addiction.  During detox, our professional medical team helps clients wean off opiates, and other chemical substances. After detox, expect gender-specific residential treatment where clients participate in  group and individual therapy, which is designed to treat substance abuse, as well as provide dual diagnosis support.

Along with treatment, we offer exercise, nutritious meals, life skills coaching, and other holistic therapies.

Participation in a 12-step program will provide a sense of spirituality, a connection to the universe, as well as to other human beings.

The 12-steps are a powerful recovery tool.

At Cycles of Change, we don’t focus on the problem.

We look for the solution.

 

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