Doctors. Nurses. Surgeons. Pharmacists. These titles carry with them a certain respect and authority. We trust medical professionals to act within our best interest, and to evaluate each case as it applies to the individual. But is this trust sometimes misplaced?
A Preventable Tragedy
Gretchen Fordham, a middle-aged Boston resident, was taken to the Anna Jaques hospital on January 10th, after crashing her vehicle into a tree. When she arrived at the hospital, she was given Narcan to combat the heroin overdose that was responsible for the crash. However, upon her release, she was sent home with a prescription for Oxycodone for her injuries. Let me reiterate here. A woman has a heroin overdose at the wheel, is brought back with Narcan, and immediately handed a bottle of opioid painkillers. Less than 24 hours later, she was dead from an overdose. It is difficult to even comprehend the level of inattention and negligence involved in this scenario, particularly in light of the fact that opiate addiction is at the forefront of functionally every political campaign, scientific research organization, and both local and national news outlets. How could this grievous error in medicine have even happened?
Now, I am not absolving the victim of all guilt. The prescribing doctor did not force her to take the drugs to the point of overdose, and I am sure that the dosing instructions were not followed. But here is the problem. The victim was an addict. The fact that she overdosed on heroin in the first place is proof of that. Meaning, she had little to no control over her intake of a readily available substance. Would she have continued using heroin if the oxycodone hadn’t been available? Possibly. But the point here is, a medical professional treated her for an overdose, then promptly gave her what she needed to feed her addiction. There has to be some responsibility taken by the medical community to prevent more opiate-related deaths. The over-prescribing of opiate painkillers is a large part of the heroin epidemic currently ravaging the nation, and while there have been some improvements, this case is a clear indicator that more progress is critical. The fight against opiate addiction needs to be fought on several fronts, one of which is in the medical community. Doctors need to be hypervigilant and well-informed about addiction, and treat patients accordingly. So when a patient JUST overdosed on heroin, prescribing them with an opioid painkiller is likely a recipe for disaster, and unnecessary when there are non-opioid painkiller options available.
Narcan is NOT a Cure
Further, this tragedy clearly delineates the point that we (and others) have made in the past regarding Narcan distribution. Opioid reversal does NOT equal opioid recovery. Administration of Narcan needs to come with a thorough addiction evaluation, and options for treatment. Personally, this writer believes that some kind of treatment should be mandatory after being given Narcan, but we are likely a long way off from this. But there absolutely needs to be procedures in place to at least let addicts know what their options are in terms of treatment, or a network that these patients can be connected to that will allow them to talk to others who have been in their shoes and since recovered.
If you or someone you know is struggling with opiate or heroin addiction, there is help available. Call the addictions professionals at Serenity Acres Treatment Center for a free, confidential assessment: 1-800-203-2024.