By Wendy Burnett
If you take more pain medication than your doctor has prescribed for you, on a regular basis, you have a much bigger problem than you think. Whether the doctor is under-prescribing or not, if you’re constantly calling and asking for more meds, you are labeling yourself as an addict.
Even if you legitimately need a higher dose, taking matters into your own hands will only make it harder to get. The more desperate you seem when you ask for more, the less likely your doctor is to even renew your existing prescription, let alone increase it.
The Dangers of Prescribing Opioids
Government interference is making it harder and harder to get adequate pain treatment, because the law now expects doctors to be able to tell whether someone is truly experiencing pain or just trying to get the drugs they need to feed their addiction. What’s even worse is that if doctors get it “wrong,” prosecutors can charge them with all kinds of crimes, and even if the doctor is found innocent (which is rare,) he is frequently too afraid of being charged again to treat pain patients; even if he’s managed to come through the process with his license to practice medicine.
The decision to prosecute doesn’t rest with pain management specialists who understand how pain should be treated, and what dosages are appropriate for various illnesses. That decision rests in the hands of lawyers who rarely even speak to a pain management specialist. They’re much more likely to consult an “addiction specialist” who may have no idea what is appropriate for the treatment of chronic pain, and may consider ANY long term use of pain medication as addiction. In addition, the decision to prosecute may be based on no more than the absolute number of pills prescribed, with no attempt made to determine if that number is reasonable for the patients treated or the conditions they have.
Doctors risk losing their license, losing their livelihood, and losing their freedom every time they write a prescription for a controlled medication. Can we really blame them for being careful and refusing to increase dosages, renew prescriptions, or even continue to treat us when we act like addicts?
What Can You Do as a Patient?
There are many ways that you, as a patient, can help your doctors treat your pain appropriately, while still helping them protect themselves from prosecution.
- First, you can find non-medication options that help us control pain levels and reduce your need for prescriptions. There are many things you can do for yourself; such as guided meditation, diet changes, mild exercise, etc., that can and do help.
- Second, you can be open to other treatments that can reduce pain levels without using opioid medications. There are many studies that show that for some patients; other types of medications, other combinations of treatments, and other coping strategies can reduce or eliminate the need for opioids.
- Third, you can offer to sign a “treatment contract” that sets out your responsibilities and the consequences if you violate your agreement with the doctor. The specific clauses in the contract vary depending on the circumstances; but may include things like whether you can take an extra pill without calling the doctor for approval, labs to keep track of whether you’re cheating, what you should do if another doctor prescribes pain meds, how you will protect your meds from being stolen, etc.
- Finally, you can request a referral to a pain management specialist or clinic. (Calmly! If you are telling your doctor he’s an idiot and needs to send you to someone that knows what they’re doing, you’re only going to piss him off and risk being cut loose with no treatment at all.)
Living with chronic illness or chronic pain has no easy answers and no simple cures. Finding the right combination of treatments for each patient is difficult, and requires you, as the patient, to do the necessary research to find options that may work for you. With the current “blame the doctor” mindset of the law enforcement community, it is going to become more and more difficult to find doctors willing to treat pain patients at all, and those who continue to write prescriptions for controlled medications will have to be even more careful about who they give them to.
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- The Government’s Top Minds Are Working Hard to Make Painkillers ‘Tightly Regulated Yet Easily Available’ (reason.com)
- Prescription Drug Abuse: Who Gets Addicted? (webmd.com)
- Want pain pills? Be ready to sign a contract (msnbc.msn.com)
- Question of the Week: Got Pain Meds? (ohmyachesandpains.info)
- Law a pain for some legitimate patients (dispatch.com)
- Well: Giving Chronic Pain a Medical Platform of Its Own (well.blogs.nytimes.com)