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I was sitting with a patient

who was still groggy after

surgery when the doctor said

he would send her home with

pain medication.  The patient

said “ok”. I asked the doctor if

the pain medication was an

opioid and he said it was. 

I knew the patient didn’t want to take an opioid and when she heard that, she

said she didn’t want the prescription. She would take something else since

she felt able to handle the pain for a few days that were predicted.

Now we have Overdose Awareness Day and an opioid crisis in America. It

could have very well started because of conversations like that one. Too often,

people do not understand the medical jargon spewed by fast-talking or

overworked healthcare professionals who know what they are talking about,

but who have no idea if the patient does. It’s easy to write a prescription for

pain medication after all, why would a clinician want a phone call in the

middle of the night that the patient is in pain? Give them the prescription and

send them home to sleep.

Years ago, after my own surgery when I didn’t even know what an opioid was,

I doubled up and for two weeks slept through any pain.  “Wake me in two

weeks when my pain medications run out,” I told my family.  I think back and

realize I must have been crazy.

Not everyone will become addicted or overdose on medication, but too many

will. I believe we can stop this crisis by better communication and “informed

consent”, meaning that patients really know their care and treatment plan

including medications; side effects, potential for addiction, and possible

interactions with other medications.

Better communications and better understanding, and an advocate who can

ask the right questions, can make us all better off than awareness and

treatment only after the fact.

Ilene Corina, BCPA

President, Pulse Center for Patient Safety Education & Advocacy

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