A Hard Pill to Swallow
Amanda Miller, RN, BSN, MBA
There is an unprecedented opioid problem in our community. Much of the talk centers around who is to blame for this epidemic which generally leads to physicians and the healthcare industry.
While it is important to analyze the cause of a problem, it is equally important to talk about what we, as a community, are going to do to help those caught up in this crisis. This is where differences arise.
According to Taber’s Medical Dictionary, addiction is defined as a compulsive, abnormal dependence on a substance or behavior. I have, as a nurse in the emergency department, cared for many patients with addiction and have given Narcan to reverse an overdose more times than I care to count. These patients are as worthy of our medical attention and resources as any patient that comes through our doors.
So, what are we to do? I have heard people say that physicians shouldn’t prescribe opioid or narcotic pain medication. Pain medication has a place in modern medicine, one that is unlikely to disappear anytime soon.
Surgery, broken bones, and a host of other health issues are painful, and controlling a person’s pain aides in the healing process. Patients expect pain medication when they ask for it. Pain is the only vital sign that is subjective.
As healthcare providers we must believe that each patient’s pain is what they say it is. Whether the patient rates their pain as the worst they have ever felt, or only a mild inconvenience, we will treat their pain accordingly.
There is also an expectation from patient’s that their pain will be treated to their standard, which may or may not be a realistic goal. Many patients threaten legal action that can put our jobs in jeopardy if they don’t feel their personal standard has been met.
Our community must come together to combat the opioid epidemic. The first step is keeping people alive long enough to get help.
Once a person is medically stable, we need to help them to heal their minds and to develop alternate coping mechanisms. There are several treatment centers here in Frederick County that are crucial to combat the opioid epidemic, including Serenity Treatment Center, Mountain Manor Treatment Center, and Crossroads Center.
The Maryland Justice Department also has a part to play, which is why officers are now receiving training in the use of Narcan to reverse an overdose. All these parts must come together if meaningful change is to be made.
In the end, we healthcare providers can do our part to combat the opioid crisis, but there are many other pieces which need to come together if we are to be successful.
If a patient doesn’t want to stop using opioids, they won’t stop. It is not for health care providers to decide how many times to treat a patient. We will treat a patient every time, whether it is an overdose, a diabetic who refuses to take their insulin, a renal patient who misses their dialysis, we treat everyone without question or hesitation.
A person ultimately needs to take responsibility for their own healing; but we, as a community, must have the tools available.
We, as a society should also be willing to give these recovering patients a second chance, a chance to succeed, and this can be a hard pill to swallow.