Jane was prescribed a powerful painkiller after her back surgery. She took medications according to the doctor’s instructions, never missing a dose. Once her two-week course was complete, she went back to the hospital for a follow-up only to realize that the attending doctors did not know how to taper off her medication. Back home, when she started getting intense physical pain, headache and abdominal cramps, the same doctors failed to identify the withdrawal symptoms.
Opioids are the major cause of all drug deaths in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that nearly 91 Americans succumb to opioid overdose every day. Between 2002-15, there was a 2.8-fold increase in the total number of deaths involving opioids. By the end of 2016, 14,427 lives were lost to overdose from natural and semi-synthetic opioids. While heroin and synthetic opioid fentanyl are accountable for the rising mortalities, over prescription of painkillers such as Dilaudid and Vicodin are no less guilty. This raises the question whether hospitals could be held accountable if patients become dependent on opioid painkillers after surgeries.
According to Dr. Andrew Kolodny, director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing and co-director of the Opioid Policy Research Collaborative at Brandeis University’s Heller School, “Putting hospitals on the hook for the consequences of aggressive opioid prescribing makes sense to me.” Looking at the serious situation, in August 2016, the then U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy had sent out a letter to all physicians, urging them to acquire enough training to treat pain safely. He had also urged them to ensure proper screening and treat opioid addiction as a disease and not as a moral failing.
While most feel it is fair to blame hospitals, there are downsides, such as customer dissatisfaction, which could cost the hospital dearly in the following ways:
- Lack of resources: Hospitals that are already fraught with constraints on time, money and resources could find it taxing to monitor the condition and progress of every patient put on opioid treatment.
- Bad scorecards result in monetary losses: Patient surveys or score cards play an important role in drawing funds for various ventures, such as setting up a day-care for children or a vital equipment in place of the obsolete one. Hospitals with low scores could lose potential investors.
- Dissatisfied customer: A dissatisfied customer or patient will give a bad score even if the attending physicians followed the protocols to the tee.
In light of such failings, it is necessary to have a comprehensive action plan in place, which includes proper guidelines for use and disposal of painkillers.
Surprisingly, many from the medical community themselves are unaware how to treat opioid-related problems. The interns may not receive adequate training or acquire the necessary skills to treat overdose victims. Many continue to believe that opioids are the safest means to treat moderate to severe pain without any risks involved. The surgeon general said, “Many of us were even taught – incorrectly – that opioids are not addictive when prescribed for legitimate pain.” In addition, while the CDC has guidelines in place for chronic pain, not all physicians seem to abide by it.
Course of painkillers
A recent study has defined the optimal length of opioid pain medications after surgery. For the purpose of the study, the Department of Defense Military Health System Data Repository identified opioid-naive individuals aged 18 to 64, who had undergone surgery between 2005 and 2014. The researchers found that opioid prescriptions that lasted for four to nine days were the best for pain treatment and post-surgery recovery. For women health procedures, four to 13 days were deemed sufficient, while for musculoskeletal procedures, the duration tended to be longer, from six to 15 days.
Road to recovery
Sovereign Health, a leading provider of mental health and addiction treatment in the U.S., believes that the sufferer needs long-term treatment and care, and deserves full justice. Sovereign’s Court Services division helps such people with effective legal support. We do not offer legal counsel or representation, but we do accompany our patients to court as their legal advocate. Call our 24/7 helpline 866-439-7698 or chat online with an expert for any assistance.