Chances are television viewers are familiar with the side effects of drugs advertised on TV, but the adverse effects of narcotics are not as well publicized, Sorg says. “The assumption is that everyone knows what the risks are, but that’s not the case. Prescribers need to inform patients. We also need more research on how to identify individualized risks for addiction.”
On the one hand, Sorg says, patients need to know the risks. On the other hand, we have to treat pain so people can be comfortable.
“We’ve become a consumer medical society. We are no longer just ‘patients’ but ‘consumers,’ with medical care now administered on a business model,” Sorg says. “Most practitioners are no longer in private practice; they are required by their employers to maximize the number of patient visits. As a result, many patient visits are limited to only a few minutes. It’s very hard to do patient education in six minutes.”
As informed consumers, people should know as much as possible about the medications they’re taking, Sorg says. They need to be aware of the potential environmental and safety risks to others, taking such steps as participating in mailbacks for unused drugs and putting medicines with a high risk of abuse in a secure location in the home.
Sorg, Greenwald and others continually give talks to professionals on the front lines. Their audiences are physicians, dentists, pharmacists and law enforcement officials. They also include those who work with people for whom drugs may pose unanticipated risks — hospice and homeless shelter administrators, for example, who need to protect their vulnerable clients from being victims of prescription drug thefts. The drug analysis data has brought to the attention of law enforcement agencies, schools, drug rehab areas and families the need to look for prescription drug abuse problems and understand how they affect communities.
“We keep looking for evidence that the pendulum has stopped swinging in a negative direction,” Sorg says. “We have made improvements at the policy level. The Prescription Drug Monitoring Program is a good example. More provider education is happening. However, as long as the number of prescriptions for narcotics and other controlled substances is high, our society is at risk for potential consequences, and we need to be vigilant.”