Unfortunately, it happens all the time. Patients are prescribed narcotic painkillers for legitimate reasons and then, become addicted to them. Most of the time, the doctors who are prescribing the medicines are good physicians who mean well. They are just trying to relieve pain in order to help their patients, but the very prescription that is given to relieve pain can often turn into a lifetime of misery. Historically, no data has been available on just how often this happens, but a recent study provides some frightening answers.
The study looked at over one million patients who were given a new prescription for opiate pain medications and then followed them to see how many were still taking opiates 12 months later. They excluded any patients who had received an opiate prescription in the prior 6 months - so the one million excluded any chronic pain patients who may have already been addicted. The study also excluded any patients with cancer.
I just returned from a weekend conference about breaking habits and addictive behavior. The speaker, Mukta Kaur Khalsa, Ph.D., has worked in rehab clinics for 40 years and trained with Indian Guru, Yogi Bhajan for about 30 years. Now she does training for people who work in the field of addiction. (www.SuperHealth.net)
The presenter talked about how by the time a child hits developmental landmarks at ages 3, 7 and 11 years, habitual reactions to stress are established. Add to that an absent, abusive or negligent parent, and the child is naturally going to be at risk to use substances to avoid the emotional maelstrom created.
Recently a mother of one of my patients expressed her concern that although her daughter was willingly going through our Medically Assisted Opioid Withdrawal process and committed to not using narcotics, she was insistent about her intention to continue using pot when she returned home. Her daughter insists it is the only thing that helps with her anxiety.
I don’t make any moral judgments about using marijuana, but I think it’s probably useful for someone who has the disease of addiction to be curious about alternative approaches to dealing with anxiety. There are so many great tools and therapists available to help people learn to coexist with their anxiety, and I struggle to simply see them surrender to a pharmaceutical “solution.”
“The human soul doesn't want to be fixed, it simply wants to be seen and heard. The soul is like a wild animal - tough, resilient and shy. When we go crashing through the woods shouting for it to come out so we can help it, the soul will stay in hiding. But if we are willing to sit quietly and wait for a while, the soul may show itself.”
These are the words of Parker J. Palmer.
I am reading this, thinking of the patients who come through our doors, desperate to be released from the grip of substances, and from the grip of agonizing thoughts.
The Opioid Epidemic has clearly gained national attention.
Recent legislation allows qualified doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants to treat 275 patients with Substance Use Disorder per year with Suboxone® or buprenorphine, instead of the previously allowed 100 patients per year. Additionally, the number of methadone clinics continues to increase.
As many of our patients and their families have found, using buprenorphine or methadone to help a loved one off opiates (i.e. maintenance treatment) is a fairly accessible Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) option. With the prevalence of methadone clinics, and the ability of doctors to easily and quickly prescribe Suboxone® in an office setting, this is a convenient treatment for many people and can help save precious lives.