Prescription Addiction

My friend Katie has been writing frequently about the scourge of addiction to prescription drugs since her son died of an overdose and beating in May.  And now John and I have been witnessing this almost every day in our work.
Our practice is mostly appointed work–a conscious choice for several reasons, but that’s for another post.  We do a lot of work for parents who have been charged in dependence and neglect cases, and John also acts as Guardian ad Litem for the children in such cases.  Before you say, “Oh, how can you defend people who abuse their kids?” let me tell you that it’s not like what you imagine.  Almost every parent we represent has one major problem which leads to the removal of their children–they are addicted to pain medication.  These are people who love their children, who have never purposely hurt their children, who want to get their children back–which the system makes very difficult indeed.  Perhaps all the money spent on foster care and attorneys and DCS workers in these cases would be better spent on treating the problem and helping maintain the families instead of tearing them apart?  I don’t know, but I wonder.
Yesterday we got word that one of our clients, the father of four, died of an overdose.  His children had been taken away from him for the second time because of drugs.  I spoke with this man on the phone more than once.  He loved his kids and was trying to do what he needed to do to get them back.  Now he is gone.
One of the many dangers of these drugs is that they are so accessible.  If you’ve had surgery recently chances are you have a few in your cabinet right now.  My cat broke his leg this week, and the vet warned me to keep his painkillers in a safe place if anyone ever comes in my house who might have a prescription addiction problem.  Can you imagine being so desperate that you would try to get high on cat medicine?   I can’t, but growing numbers of people can–and it’s a problem that is not going away on its own.

0 thoughts on “Prescription Addiction

  1. The terrible irony is that while these drugs are “accessible” to folks who are willing to steal from neighbours with cancer, root through the trash at retirement homes, doctor-shop and whatever else they do to get them…
    People who NEED pain medicine (and we are not few) have increasing difficulty getting it at all.
    I have Rheumatoid Arthritis, Dercums Disease, and Stage IV Endometriosis. My ovaries and bowel are adhered to the wall of my abdomen. I can no longer walk for much more than 20 yards without assistance. I have about 4 good hours a day–on the days when I’m not taking a moderate dose of chemo to keep my body from becoming gnarled and useless. I have passed more than 100 kidney stones in15 years and still pass on average 1 every 3 months.
    I am 40 years old. I have been dealing with various iterations of these problems since I was 18.
    I am a responsible patient who uses the minimum dose of Rx pain relievers in order to be able to have something that passes for a normal adult life. My first line of defence is always non-chemical, relying on heating pads, hot baths, self-hypnosis, TENS units, massage, gentle stretching and rest. Yet I NEED Rx pain medication to function. I need it the way a diabetic needs insulin or the way most adults over 60 need Lipitor.
    Every time someone well-meaningly crusades against prescription drug abuse they inadvertantly criminalise pain patients.
    I have been left screaming and vomiting blood in the ER by nurses and interns who assumed I was a drug-seeker before they saw the 3mm kidney stone on the CAT scan. Just last week I passed out from pain because I didn’t want to go to the ER to be treated like a felon. I have had Walgreens refuse to fill a legitimate prescription for a NON-SCHEDULED pain medicine because they feel like it should be scheduled. (Tramadol.) And because they thought I was a drug-seeker, until they got a scathing phone call from a very irate rheumatologist.
    I am sorry that people are dying because of their misuse of these medications. It’s a tragedy. But there is absolutely no use compounding that tragedy by criminalising legitimate pain patients.

    1. Katherine,
      Thank you very much for commenting. I agree with everything you’ve said. Just this morning I heard on the radio that the Governor of Tennessee is considering making products containing pseudoephedrine prescription only to prevent their use in meth labs. I suffer from sinus headaches (minor, minor suffering compared to what you are describing) and those products are the only thing that really works for me. I do not have access to insurance, and therefore would have to pay $60 for a doctor visit to get a prescription for a $4 box of bills, because of meth addicts. And of course this won’t help stop meth manuafacturing in the least!
      So I agree that criminalizing those who need medicine is wrong, wrong, wrong. Let’s go after the pain clinics. And let’s try to figure out WHY so many people use drugs to begin with. That’s too big of a problem for people to wrap their minds around, so they go for the quick fix, which punishes YOU. I am so sorry for all your pain.

  2. Helga

    I work for an attorney in SW Virginia. We see a lot of meth cases, but I am very familiar with the prescription drug abuse, as I have an addicted daughter. Pharmacy robberies are on the rise here and I would like to point out that in Germany, where I grew up, narcotics are only dispensed on a demand basis. They are not stocked at the pharmacy, but delivered to the pharmacy once you drop off your prescription. You have to wait a few hours and then return to pick up your pills. Doctors there rarely prescribe narcotics, only in absolutely necessary cases, like final stage of cancer, etc. and not for sprained ankles and such, like they love to do around here.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Helga. It is interesting what you say about Germany. Not being a doctor, I don’t know if it was necessary, but in our house we have been prescribed narcotics for pain following a car accident, gallstones, pain following gall bladder removal, pain following D and C for miscarriage, and pain following physeal plating. In every case we had pills left over. At the very least it would make sense to dispense only a few to begin with and see how things go.

  3. Clisby

    Leslie, I agree with your last comment. Over the past 3 years, I’ve had Vicodin prescribed 3 times after oral surgery.
    (WARNING: This part not for the very squeamish: this was for gum grafts, where the periodontist cuts a strip of living tissue off the roof of your mouth and grafts it onto the gum line to prevent further recession.)
    As you can imagine, this HURTS. In each case, my periodontist has prescribed about a 4-day supply of pain medicine, with no refills. A couple of times I’ve needed more, and I had to call back up, discuss my symptoms with her *in person*, and once come back in for a checkup, before she gave me more.
    And then I read newspaper articles that describe dentists giving out *2 weeks of Vicodin* just for pulling a tooth. (Yes, I’ve had teeth pulled. I guarantee you the pain is nothing like having a strip of tissue cut off the roof of your mouth.)

    1. It’s a little inconvenient for you to have to make the call, but it makes sense given the problem of addiction. Every time we’ve been prescribed these drugs, we’ve been sent home with at least twenty of them.

  4. Clisby

    I’m not complaining – I think the periodontist is smart to be careful. After all, if I continue to need pain pills, it might simply mean I’m not healing as quickly as usual. It might mean I have an infection, or that something else has gone wrong. Or I might be an addict. I’m just astonished when I hear about how cavalierly some doctors/dentists prescribe really strong pain medicine.

    1. Oh, I know you weren’t. I’m just saying that a little inconvenience for those who do need the pills seems a small price to pay in averting disaster for those who shouldn’t get hold of them. I’m agreeing with you. It’s interesting. I’d like to know how doctors justify being so careless with these dangerous medicines.

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