Most people working hard to save lives from addiction know that this battle is being fought on three fronts: preventing young people from starting to use drugs by educating them; seizing drug shipments and putting drug dealers and traffickers out of business; and rehabilitating those who have become addicted. In fact, there is a vital fourth front that needs to be addressed in this battle and that is this one: overhauling the way addictive substances are prescribed and ensuring that doctors are properly trained to help those who have already become dependent.
This message as been voiced recently by the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, the Massachusetts Eagle-Tribune, the National Safety Council and CNN Commentator Bob Beckel.
There’s a clear consensus on the changes that are needed.
1. Doctors need more training in the safest ways to prescribe addictive drugs like painkillers and anti-anxiety drugs.
2. They must be skilled at recognizing the signs of dependence or drug-seeking by their patients.
3. When a patient is addicted, they must know how to help him by weaning him carefully off the drug or helping the patient find a suitable rehab or medical detox.
Current Situation is Far from Optimum
One survey showed that our doctors lack the medical training that enables them to prevent addiction. In January 2015, the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs published a survey of 1,831 directors of medical residency programs across the nation. The survey asked these directors how many hours of training their doctors had received on addiction and substance abuse. The answers ranged from three (for emergency medicine and OB/GYN) to 12 (family practice).
In September 2015, the Massachusetts Eagle-Tribune reported on a training program for doctors on how to safely prescribe opioids. Two months after this training, 86% of the doctors said they were able to improve their prescribing practices and were more able to monitor patients for both benefits and harm. In a flanking action, in October 2015, Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts introduced legislation to limit the number of pills doctors and dentists can prescribe.
CNN Commentator Bob wrote a column about how he became addicted when he was prescribed OxyContin for several weeks after back surgery. He admitted himself to a rehab facility to get weaned off the drugs and learn how to manage post-surgery pain. At the rehab, he found himself surrounded by people who were addicted to pain relievers they were prescribed by their physicians. “Ostensibly, the doctors prescribing these drugs are well-intentioned; they don’t mean to create addicts,” he said. “They simply don’t have the education to know better.”
In June 2015, highly-respected Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health pointed out that doctors “don’t understand basic facts about how people may abuse the drugs or how addictive different formulations of the medications can be.”
There is Good News
The good news is that reports and actions like these are increasing awareness that doctors and dentists must be incorporated into the solution. Leading the charge on this front are states struggling the most with high levels of addiction – Ohio, Massachusetts and Vermont are all very active in implementing legislative changes on multiple fronts to reverse this growing trend of addiction and overdose. A nearly-endless parade of parents who have lost their children to overdoses willingly testify about their loss to prevent other parents from suffering the same tragic loss.
No one front of attack will eliminate this problem. Only hard work on every front mentioned here will be capable of fighting off the threat of addiction to prescription drugs. Narconon is very proud to be part of this solution.