Opioid medications are prescribed for patients who are experiencing moderate to severe pain. Common opioids, also known as opioid agonists, that doctors may prescribe for pain relief include hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, oxymorphone, codeine, and fentanyl. Patients may receive opioid prescriptions when experiencing either acute or chronic pain.
Some, but not all, of the factors that doctors consider when prescribing opioids include:
- Potency of opioid (measured in milligram morphine equivalent – MME)
- Maximum daily dose and units
- Number of units necessary to treat the patient
- Patient risk of substance abuse or dependence
- Patient history of substance abuse or dependence
- Alternative pain relief treatments
Doctors must be careful when prescribing opioids because negligent prescription of opioids, inadequate risk assessment, and poor management of patients taking opioid medication can lead to addiction and other consequences.
Prescribing Opioids for Acute Pain
A doctor may prescribe opioid pain relievers following a surgical procedure to relieve pain associated with recovery from the procedure. Doctors may also prescribe opioids to patients who suffered a serious injury.
In some cases, patients first become addicted to opioids when taking the medication to manage acute pain following surgery or an injury. So, proper prescription management can be vital to prevent substance abuse and addiction.
When prescribing opioids for acute pain, doctors should not prescribe more than what the patient needs to recover. For example, if a patient would need just a few days of medication, the doctor should only prescribe those days’ worth of opioids. Proper patient follow-up can also be significant in these cases
Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain
Doctors may prescribe patients opioids to relieve chronic pain, including back pain or neck pain. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) reports that as many as a quarter of patients on long-term opioid therapy in a primary care setting are struggling with addiction to opioid medication.
Thus, doctors should assess patient risk when prescribing opioid medication. Doctors should consider the risk of prescribing opioid medications to a patient with a history of substance abuse or dependence.
Doctors should also regularly assess the patient’s progress toward reaching goals of pain relief. Doctors may modify the opioid prescription or may discontinue use of opioids if the patient’s symptoms have not improved while taking the medication. Doctors should also monitor their patients’ use of the medication to watch for signs of abuse, growing tolerance, or dependence.
Negligent Prescription of Opioid Medication Can Lead to Addiction, Injury, or Death
Every day, an average of 130 Americans die from an opioid overdose, according to the CDC. Ensuring opioid medications are prescribed responsibly is vital to preventing addiction, injury, and death.
Doctors who prescribe opioids to a patient with a history of substance abuse could cause that patient to relapse, for example. Or a doctor who prescribes more opioid medication than is necessary to relieve a patient’s pain could put that patient at risk of developing an addiction.
That is why doctors must be especially careful when prescribing and dispensing these dangerous medications.
If a doctor was negligent in prescribing you or a family member opioids, and you or a loved one suffered injury or death as a result, you may have grounds to take legal action.
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