A Dose of Reality
Prescription painkillers can be helpful and beneficial for treating pain, but if misused, they can be dangerous and sometimes deadly. In the United States, prescription painkillers are involved in more overdose deaths than heroin. Prescription opioid overdoses have quadrupled since 1999. Healthcare professionals play an important role in preventing prescription painkiller abuse. They can screen their patients for signs of abuse, misuse, or dependence, and educate patients about the dangers of misusing prescription painkillers.
What Healthcare Professionals Can Do
- Obtain a full history of the patient’s past use of prescribed medications.
- Check Minnesota’s Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP) database to determine a patient’s prescribing history. Check whether the patient is obtaining prescriptions for the same or similar medications from multiple physicians, thereby engaging in so-called “doctor shopping.”
- Talk with patients about the dangers and risks of prescription painkillers.
- When appropriate, offer alternatives to prescription painkillers that do not include opioids.
- Make sure patients are aware of the high risk of addiction.
- Reinforce that patients should take medicine only if it has been prescribed for them and only as directed, and that they shouldn’t share this medicine with others.
- Tell patients to lock up their medication, because pills are often diverted out of home medicine cabinets.
- Tell patients to dispose of unused medications by taking them to a secure location at a local pharmacy or law enforcement organization.
- Engage in “best practices” to prevent patients from “doctor shopping” and to detect addiction.
Resources for Healthcare Professionals
- CDC Guidelines for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain
- A series of Continuing Medical Education (CME) courses funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) are available at no charge at www.OpioidPrescribing.com
- Share Drug Take Back locations near you and encourage patients to dispose of any expired or unwanted prescription painkillers.
- Guidance from U.S. Surgeon General