You don’t need me to tell you we have an opioid crisis in this country. Men and women of all ages, income levels and education levels are dying from overdoses. Not only are there illegal opiates, such as heroin, entering the country, we are awash in legally manufactured pills. Drug companies produce far more pills than can be justified by reasonable pain prescriptions. Many of these pills end up in the hands of addicts.
Until recently, many well-meaning doctors prescribed opioids for pain relief, even when the pain was not terribly severe. They had been told by the drug manufactures that people in pain needed opioids, that they were safe to prescribe and that there was little risk of addiction. Now we know that none of that is true. People can and should get by on non-narcotic pain medications or on the lowest effective dose of an opiate. Prescribing narcotic pain medications either in large doses or over a long period of time is an almost sure ticket to addiction.
Now we find that not all those doctors prescribing opiates are well-meaning. First, there are the doctors who run what are called “pill mills.” These doctors will write a prescription for anyone who comes in the door and says that their back hurts. Sometimes, they get a kickback from the pharmacy. Sometimes they get a kickback from the patient. Sometimes, they take some of the pills they have prescribed and sell them on the black market. Sometimes, they are just cheating Medicare through unnecessary billings.
Second, are the doctors who accept money from the drug manufacturers. CNN recently reported on an investigation into payments to doctors by the companies that manufacture opiates. In what may be just a giant coincidence, the doctors who prescribe the most narcotic pain pills get paid the most by the companies that make the pills. Some of those who are heavy prescribers receive very large amounts of money from the manufacturers. The more you prescribe, the more you receive from the drug manufacturers.
To be sure, drug manufacturers pay doctors for a variety of services, including consulting and speaking. The money being paid to those who prescribe pain pills may have nothing to do with how much they prescribe but it sure looks like it does. In general, there is a lot of truth to the adage that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is probably a duck.
We as patients want to believe that our doctor has our best interests at heart when making medical decisions, including prescription decisions. The figures uncovered by CNN show that, while we may want to believe that, we cannot forget to protect ourselves. We need to be vigilant not to let a doctor accidentally addict us to painkillers. We need to try and get by without narcotic painkillers, if possible. If we need them, we need to take the smallest dose which addresses our pain issues. We need to stop taking the pain pills as soon as we no longer need them. Lastly, we need to dispose of the remaining pills in a responsible manner so that they do not end up in the hands of someone who is addicted. If we do our part, we can help by protecting ourselves and keeping at least some pain pills out of circulation.