The Opioid Epidemic and Our Responsibility as Patients

It’s not a secret. The headlines are all over the place: TV, radio, magazines, newspapers and social media are talking about the opioid epidemic that is killing thousands of Americans. We hear the stories, sometimes we know someone who lost a loved one due to an overdose, but how many times do you think about your own responsibility on this epidemic?

Probably never. If the tragedy doesn’t knock on our door, there is not a real reason to look at it in depth, right? Well, no. Reality is that according to statistics revealed in 2016 by the American Society of Addiction Medicine, in 2015 we had 20.5 million Americans 12 or older with a substance use disorder. From them, 2 million had a substance use disorder involving prescription pain relievers.

To continue with the numbers, between 1999 and 2010, 48,000 women died of prescription pain reliever overdoses. That was 7 years ago and unfortunately, the numbers have increased.

Yes, it is a declared epidemic and it involves all of us. Why? Because we all are patients, and at some point we may need, use or be prescribed pain relievers or painkillers. According with the CDC and other experts, it is important to be informed, to talk to your doctor, to ask all the questions you need to be answered, and to be proactive as a patient while in treatment.

Pain relievers are prescribed not only to adults, but also to children after a sports injuries, or a surgery. While doctors and medical personnel are aware about the risks of opioid medicines, it is also important that parents and patients understand the importance of following the physician’s instructions, and also the importance of understanding the consequences that opioids might have if they are misused.

A big portion of addicts to heroin started using painkillers and developed the addiction due to misuse of those medicines. It is not about doubting your doctor’s recommendations, or questioning your treatment, it is about knowing and understanding how those medicines work, what they do to your body and, at the end of the day, it is probably about you making the decision to use them or not, or to ask for possible alternative treatments to your doctors.

The patient-doctor relationship should be a two-way one. Information is the key and this one in particular should be openly shared with our families, children, and other people. Don’t be afraid of asking more to your doctor. The next time you see your physician, start that conversation.

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