What does a surgeon do when a patient presents their addiction history and there’s no effective alternative treatments available? Such is the conflict coming upon many surgeons today in the face of the opioid epidemic. Addicts in recovery learn how to live life on life’s terms. Sometimes that can include a traumatic injury, experiencing physical pain, or having to undergo serious surgery. Opioids are part of anesthesiology, they’re prescribed before and after surgery, and they’re taken home as a prescription to treat pain. When taken as prescribed, only as long as the pain exists, it isn’t considered a relapse for a recovering opioid addict. Unfortunately, chemical dependency is chemical dependency. Once a chemical is reintroduced there is a high risk for relapse, especially if someone is in the early stages of addiction and recovery.
NPR wrote on the subject. Doctors feel that when they come into this situation, they should have an addiction specialist ready. “If a surgeon or anesthesiologist were treating a patient with serious diabetes, they’d consult an endocrinologist. Addiction…is no different.” Citing Dr. Stuart Gitlow, past president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, the article emphasizes an important point. Doctors can’t control what their patients are going to do with their opioid prescriptions, or what they will do after the prescription is done. What doctors can do is work with patients, and an addiction specialist, to create a plan of action for safety and recovery. “The biggest question is what to do to ensure this patient’s safety going forward during the period for which he’s experiencing pain…”
Problematically, “…there aren’t enough addiction specialists to meet the need,” the article explains. 2.5 million Americans are estimated to be addicted to either heroin or prescription opioids. To work with those 2.5 million people, there are only 5,000 addiction specialists available. Most addiction specialists work in treatment and therapeutic settings, not hospitals. Hospitals are often criticized for not being the place to treat addiction, yet emergency rooms are criticized for not doing enough to treat addiction.
For those in recovery anticipating living with an opioid addiction, there is a simple philosophy which resonates throughout sobriety: don’t pick up no matter what. However, when opioids are introduced to the blood stream it’s easier said than done. Work with your sponsor and your immediate treatment team or support network to develop a plan of action for staying accountable while taking opioid drugs. Attend meetings, even if they’re online or on the phone. Let someone help you manage your medications. Stay honest about any cravings you are experiencing. Continue communicating about everything.
Avalon By The Sea is dedicated to helping clients learn how to live life in a healthy and sober way. Incorporating life skills into clinical recovery in addition to holistic healing. For a confidential assessment and more information on our programs, call us today at 1 888-958-7511.