It’s fairly common knowledge that there is a growing problem of painkiller abuse sweeping the nation. With national data showing that opioid painkiller deaths are up more than 400% since 2001, physicians are struggling to find a balance between prescribing necessary painkillers to their patients and attempting to avoid contributing to this growing problem. Many med schools and teaching hospitals are looking closely at this issue and how they can improve the training given to new healthcare providers to work toward reducing these issues.
A lack of training at the university level has been cited as a contributing factor in creating the problem of opioid abuse. Many universities have recently received federal grants to put programs in place to assist in giving the necessary training to new physicians to help them identify potential cases of drug abuse and find alternative solutions to prescribing stronger painkillers.
Learning Warning Signs
The initial reaction of a good physician is to do whatever it takes to help their patient to overcome their pain. However, acting on this instinct without paying close attention to the history and actions of a patient can do more harm than good. Physicians must learn the best questions to ask and what responses to look for in order to recognize the signs of an abuser. One must not fall into the trap of presuming any patient requesting strong pain relief is looking to abuse the drugs, either, as the chronic pain population struggles within this healthcare system that treats patients like criminals (or potential criminals) by default.
Finding Alternative Treatment Options
Reducing the number of opioid prescriptions will certainly help in reducing the new cases of abuse, but for many of these patients, pain still must be addressed and treated. Learning pain management alternatives that will help patients avoid unnecessarily heavy pain killer prescriptions is an important and useful lesson. Understanding the various pharmaceutical options to deal with severe and chronic pain, along with training in alternative pain management techniques, will help reduce over-prescribing of opioids.
Understanding the Abuser
Another key to training physicians in spotting potential opioid abuse is to gain a better understanding of the psychology of abuse. This epidemic isn’t one that is exclusive to a specific population, but a widespread issue. This may help in avoiding stereotyping and assist in better treatment plans for patients.
Testing Their Knowledge
Many universities and hospitals are finding that training through the use of simulating real world case scenarios is an effective way of assisting new physicians in making the correct decision when in practice later. While in a clinical setting, they will not have the benefit of an instructor to tell them that they made the right call, so these exercises can help them to obtain the confidence they need to make difficult decisions in practice.
Combating the prescription drug abuse epidemic is a complex situation – one that the medical community must work together to overcome. Additional education during medical school and residency is a solid step in the right direction and continuing this training to avoid becoming complacent or jaded to these issues is crucial to turning the epidemic around. While much has been said about the responsibility of the medical community in contributing to this epidemic, positive progress is being made in training throughout the country.