Sharon’s Take: As Featured in the Santa Barbara Sentinel
By Sharon Byrne
Years ago, when I had the first signs of sniffles and sneezing, my then future ex-husband would exhort me to get to the doctor. I would grudgingly go, and often be written a prescription for antibiotics. I wondered why, when antibiotics kill bacteria, and what I usually had was a typical flu or cold virus. When I questioned this, my doctor shrugged his shoulders and said people wanted to leave with a prescription in their hands, so he wrote them.
I quit going to the doc for colds after that.
I last had surgery in 1997, when I got my daughter via C-Section. My doctor then was quite conservative with pain meds, which was fine with me since I wasn’t in too much pain after. So it’s been some years since I’d been in hospital, but 2014 saw me check in twice for surgeries. Everything went fine, but something had radically changed since the last time I was in a hospital bed:
This had become a big deal, and everyone was very fast to push pain meds. Need more morphine? How is your pain, on a scale of 1-10? Do you need something stronger? Would you like a Xanax before your procedure to help relax you?
I have a fairly decent threshold for pain and a terrible fear of opiate addiction that I can’t rationally explain. Addiction runs very strong in my family, so perhaps opiates will take me down the addiction drain, and I just sense it somehow. Thus, I tend to avoid pain meds, or any meds, on principle. I just can’t shake the feeling that some of the medications pushed on me have less to do with my wellbeing than they do with golf weekends for prescribing doctors and massive profits for Big Pharma. I did some consulting work for a medical firm in the early 2000’s, and it seemed to me like we spent a lot of time arranging rather lavish doctor getaways so as to make hard-sell product pitches. A decade later, I’ve seen sensible, reasonable, professional people struggle mightily with addiction to Vicodin and Oxycontin, so I am put off in advance from taking them. Thankfully, I have been blessed with great health and no chronic conditions that entail tremendous pain, so I haven’t had to face the need for prescription pain meds, except coming out of surgery.
But wow, the emphasis nowadays on pain management is not just a little upsetting. Right before I disconnected cable, now 2 years ago, I recall thinking, ‘gosh there sure are a lot of ads for pills these days.’ If you’re depressed, anxious, not anxious enough, or whatever, they want you to take pills.
Lots of them.
For all kinds of things.
In the hospital, I felt like I was letting the staff down in refusing pain medications, like I was not living up to some expectation. I was handed a prescription for 80 Vicodin on discharge. That seemed like a massive quantity of pills for some discomfort easily handled with Advil. I tossed the prescription.
The death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman drove it home once more. Addicts of prescription opiates have turned to heroin use, and died from overdose. Michael Jackson died from prescription drug overdose. Dr. Diaz, the Candy Man of Milpas St., caused eleven Emergency Room overdose deaths. Just because the doc prescribes it doesn’t make it safe to take. The rush to aggressively manage pain by medical professionals, probably an evolution of my old doc’s tendency to write prescriptions for antibiotics, stem from the same place: patient-as-customer, and the customer wants to leave with something in hand so as to have a satisfactory customer experience. Big Pharma is all too ready with samples and aggressive sales pitches to help provide that experience.
I am normally a fan of the American ingenuity to spot a need, and create a product or service to fill that need. In the case of over-prescription of pain medications, though, I think we’re pushing immediate gratification too far in the wrong direction.