Friday, November 09, 2012

Opiates Casually Dispensed

Not long ago, I was taken to the emergency room after being hit by a car while cycling. I came away from the mishap certainly shaken but, considering what could have happened in such a collision, suffered only quite minor injuries: two gashes on my leg requiring stitches and a sore shoulder. The pain caused me some discomfort but was by no means excruciating (trust me when I say I have no great tolerance for pain).

I was given morphine in the ER and on release from the hospital a generous prescription for vicodin. At no time did the doctor offer any word of caution given about the potency of the painkillers, nor was I asked anything about having addiction history.  I was not taken by surprise by this; in fact, it’s just what I expected given what I had heard from others.

The lax regard for painkillers was in stark contrast to all other aspects of the fine treatment I received. The attending physician was by and large thorough and caring, and the nurses were attentive. The gap between these areas of medical care and the way the opiates were so casually doled out only made this shortcoming all the more glaring. It perfectly illustrates the absence in medical training of education about addiction.  

Prescription opiates and other strong painkillers should not be taken lightly, yet they are liberally prescribed. Certainly my experience is the norm, not the exception. The Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey recently orchestrated the state’s annual collection of unused prescription drugs. This is a good way to prevent misuse of strong painkillers, but an even better way would be if these drugs were not so readily available in the first place.

Daniel J. Meara
NCADD-NJ Public Information Manager

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