Medical illiteracy contributes to the opioid crisis

Medical illiteracy contributes to the opioid crisis | TheHill | by Lynn R. Webster 12/20/16

A recent article in the Washington Post reported, “One-third of Americans who have taken prescription opioids for at least two months say they became addicted to, or physically dependent on, the powerful painkillers, according to a new Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation survey.”

The article suggests a shocking new finding which supports a narrative that opioids prescribed for pain in America are more dangerous than most people realize.

Most people who use opioids for more than two months become physically dependent on them. But that doesn’t make them addicted to opioids.  

Nor does it mean the opioids are harmful to the individual. Herein lies a medical literacy problem.

On the other hand, physical dependence is a normal, generally reversible neuro-adaptive process to a drug. Antihypertensives, antidepressants, and caffeine are other examples of drugs that are associated with a normal physiologic neuro-adaptation process.

Our medical illiteracy allows educated, well-intended people to confuse signs of withdrawal with addiction. This, in turn, leads to potentially misinformed policies

Addiction is commonly used as a pejorative word with a social, cultural, legal, and medical meaning. It is intended to be a diagnostic term, but nearly everyone without training in addiction, including many physicians, seems to have their own definition.

Most readers of the Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation survey will believe that it is a scientific assessment of the prevalence of addiction when prescribed an opioid for non cancer pain. It is not. Instead, it is an assessment of attitudes

Unfortunately, most who read about this survey will not realize that.

To them, the article will seem to support the common belief that continued use of painkillers leads to an opioid addiction problem one-third of the time.

This is a mischaracterization of the truth, and it’s a piece of the problem we have with medical literacy.

Lynn R. Webster, MD is Vice President Scientific Affairs for PRA Health Sciences. He is a past President of the American Academy of Pain Medicine. In addition, he is the author of the award winning book, “The Painful Truth: What Chronic Pain Is Really Like and Why It Matters to Each of Us” (Oxford University Press). Visit him online at @LynnRWebsterMD..

2 thoughts on “Medical illiteracy contributes to the opioid crisis

  1. Kathy C

    This is exactly how they are misleading us all, and It isn’t just the “Opiod Crisis either. They use the Spin Machine to mislead and misdirect us on so many things. The “information” is taken out of contexts to create a false narrative. The “Facts” and context are deliberately left out, and a Alternate view of reality goes unchallenged. No “Experts” will weigh in either, alternate views are not encouraged or allowed. Most Doctors either work for Medical Corporations, and Researchers are dependent and the “System” for future funding, We are now in the fact Free era.
    The most obvious observation should be that if any of the subjects had taken opiates for more than 2 months, they would obviously have a condition that required it in the first place. These were not people who had a short term injury, or post surgical requirement for Opiates. These would be the people that the Medical Industry cannot fix. They are left out of every discussion. This morning another Advertisement, for the Class Action Suit for the dangerous failing hip implants was on TV. There must be a lot of people who are affected, yet we don’t have access to the Data. I can’t imagine how painful it must be to have a broken Hip Implant.
    The Seniors I know with these implants that are having trouble have found ti very difficult to even get a Diagnosis. These people are probably candidates for opiates. They have trouble doing much of anything, and the inactivity, leads to further Isolation and physical decline, especially when they are in their 70’s.
    We never hear about that, in fact we only hear about these Lawsuits on TV, when there is enough proof, and a reasonable expectation of a Pay Out. With so much secrecy and misdirection in the Medical Industry, these people were probably ignored when they first reported pain, after the Implant Surgery. Pain is now a “Dirty Word” so when grandam reports pain after her second or third Hip Surgery, they probably recommend anti Depressants or Exercise. Many of these surgeries were paid for by Medicare, which means they don’t reimburse enough to fix this or count the injured. Many Physicians avoid any mention of a Painful condition, especially when it was caused by a Surgery. They are not even allowed to refer to the previous surgery, it is as if it never happened. The fear of “Drug Addition’ is too important.
    They changed the language. Now the people who can’t be helped, the people who worked long physically demanding jobs, and the Surgical mistakes, are now “Drug Addicts.’ They do not deserve empathy or redress. They are classified as “Mentally ill”, if they are in any kind of distress over this. This also takes away their credibility. Even the Veterans are now denied pain care, after the most horrible Injuries, their credibility is gone They might have “PTSD,” which renders them non-credible. These categories are never even mentioned in major Media, the Industry found it was more profitable. The Industry also decided to suppress any information to the contrary, because people in the U.S are just so gullible. If they repeat the same Industry supporting message, with the same emotional Story, they can get random people to amplify it. The uninformed and misguided, will now shame any one reporting pain, it is a sign of “Addiction” now, not that something is wrong. The Emotional Picture of an overdose death gets a lot more coverage, than hundreds of thousands of Surgical Mistakes and failures, long term diseases, the frailties of old age, or the returning Veterans with multiple surgeries to put them back together.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Zyp Czyk Post author

      I believe these are all effects of unrestrained capitalism.

      Without some restraints for social welfare it’s a brutal and nasty system for the 99% ruled by the fortunate rich 1%.



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