Tune into TV news for an hour, and you’re bound to hear about the “opioid epidemic.” Drug abuse remains one of the biggest public health problems in the United States, and it seems to get worse every year. These facts paint a less-than-pretty picture:
- In 2016, drug overdose deaths spiked from 59,000 to 65,000
- An estimated 21,000 adolescents used heroin in 2015 alone
- The opioid epidemic cost taxpayers $78.5 billion in 2013
How to help fight this epidemic? As a trusted source of medical advice and collaborative medicine, doctors are the first line of defense against addiction. Here’s how they can help.
Patient-doctor confidentiality is a blessing. Though a clinician may sometimes wish they could warn a young patient’s parents about a certain issue, their legal inability to do so is exactly why patients trust them. As an objective source of information and confidant for patients, clinicians are in the best position to detect drug abuse early. Clinicians should work to maintain a relationship of candor. Having someone to talk to will do more than just alleviate the emotional pressure that drives addiction: it will allow the doctor to make honest recommendations as to how to combat the problem.
After an honest conversation about the patient’s drug use, clinicians can make expert recommendations as to how to reduce harm. Harm reduction is best employed after it has been demonstrated that encouraging abstinence is no longer productive. It might entail suggestions on how to best avoid dangerous situations while using drugs, education on the dangers of combining certain drugs, and strategies to taper off addictive substances. Doctors aware of addictive predispositions should avoid prescribing other addictive medications. In cases where they can’t be avoided, they should consider prescribing medications with abuse-deterrent formulations.
Collaborative medicine may help primary care doctors treat addiction. The condition might be best treated by a specialist such as a neurologist, psychiatrist, or counselor. Through collaborative medicine, an overall picture of the patient’s health can be created, giving them a medical and emotional support network as well as a more nuanced picture of their health.
Join The Caron Foundation for an open house on the substance abuse epidemic on October 3. Confirmed reservation required. The Caron Foundation uses complementary and collaborative medicine to address addiction from all sides, from helping teens and adults find help to discussing the role of healthcare professionals in the epidemic. Visit Metro Collaborative’s website for more information on the event or call them at (609) 876-9163.