Like so many moms across this country, my son became addicted to opioid pain relievers after they were prescribed to him to treat a sports injury. Had I just been told about the addictive qualities of the medicine Steven was prescribed, I would have known to look for alternatives. I would have known to look for signs of dependency earlier.
Too many parents throughout this country are in the dark as their children are prescribed drugs that are highly addictive. A recent national survey done by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation confirms what I’ve learned talking with other parents: 6 in 10 doctors now prescribe opioid painkillers without telling patients they can be addictive.
This knowledge informs a new law, which I spearheaded in New Jersey and now has been adopted by Rhode Island, as well as included as one of the recommendations made by the National Opioid Commission in its interim report. It requires that all patients, and parents of patients under the age of 18, be informed by a prescriber (dentist or doctor) of the potential addictive qualities of opioids prior to receiving a prescription. The prescriber is also responsible, when appropriate, to provide nonopiate alternatives to address both acute and chronic pain. This common-sense conversation gives parents the information they need to protect their teenagers, whose developing brains are particularly vulnerable, and adult patients the information they need to look for signs of addiction.
Utah has not enacted this law, and it is critical this same notice of addiction risks be provided by doctors to all patients and parents throughout the nation. The overprescribing of opioid-based pain relievers, such as Oxycodone and Vicodin, is the primary cause of today’s epidemic of opiate addiction, to opioid-based painkillers and their illegal street cousin, heroin. More than 200 million prescriptions for opioid-based painkillers are written each year in the United States.
"In fact, in 2015, the amount of opioids prescribed in the U.S. was enough for every American to be medicated around the clock for three weeks,” writes the National Opioid Commission.
As David Kessler, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said, “The mantra was prescribe until patients achieve pain relief.”
A report on the opioid epidemic from Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health strongly recommends tightening up prescribing practices: “Doctors often prescribe pain medications in quantities and for conditions that are excessive, and in many cases, beyond the evidence base.”
According to national surveys, 85 percent of doctors say opiate-based pain medications are overprescribed.
Even with the epidemic of opiate addiction to prescription painkillers and heroin taking more than 30,000 lives annually, prescribing practices have yet to fundamentally change. As the National Opioid Commission states in its interim report, “We have an enormous problem that is often not beginning on street corners; it is starting in doctor’s offices and hospitals in every state in our nation."
Requiring a conversation between doctors, patients and parents before an opioid is prescribed is a simple but extremely effective measure that will result in saving lives. It provides a way to fulfill former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murphy’s vision of doctors, nurses and other health providers becoming "the first line of defense in the battle against addiction."5 comments on this story
All parents and patients in every state have the right to know the medicine they are being prescribed can lead to dependency and addiction, as well as the availability of opioid-free alternatives in many situations. I urge all state legislators and governors to enact the Patient Notification and Conversation law that New Jersey and Rhode Island recently passed and to help us work for national adoption. I only wish this law was in effect when Steven was first prescribed opioids for his injury.
Elaine Pozycki is the Founder of Prevent Opioid Abuse, a national organization working to educate patients and parents about the risks of opioid-based painkillers and the availability of nonopioid alternatives.