4 Things Doctors Don’t Tell You About Painkillers
A Familiar Story
A story we hear all of the time at Addiction Campuses is the story of the unsuspecting addict. The athlete who tore his MCL and had to get surgery. The mom who had a c-section. The co-worker who needed a carpal tunnel procedure.
They went to a trusted doctor and had a surgical procedure that was supposed to improve their lives. This would help them walk, move, work – better. It would relieve their constant pain.
And subsequent to the surgery their trusted doctor prescribed pain relief medicine. They took it and in weeks got addicted. They stopped being able to get the pain meds, so they found heroin was a cheap substitute. Now they’re on heroin and they are a wreck – so they call us for help. And we help them. Why is this a common story? Why is this happening?
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Why Do Doctors Always Prescribe Pain Medicine?
Because severe pain inhibits healing. Patients who are experiencing relentless pain have higher blood pressure, higher heart rates and restricted blood circulation. Their bodies are tense and stressed. They cannot move or walk – which is crucial to recovery after surgery. Not being able to walk puts patients in a position to have their lungs fill up with fluid. So now a doctor has a patient whose blood pressure is sky high, he is rigid with pain and his lungs are filling up with fluid. He can die like this.
So they prescribe pain killers. Opiates like Hydrocodone, Vicodin, Oxycontin, Fentanyl, Morphine, and Lortab can be prescribed to block the pain receptors and allow a patient to breathe calmly – free of pain. They can finally get restorative sleep. They can begin to heal.
I know this not because I’m a doctor, but because I’m unfortunately a bit of an expert when it comes to doctors and hospitals and surgeries:
I’ve had a LOT of surgeries. I’ve had more surgeries between the ages 18 to 41 that most people will have in their entire lives. I’m not happy about this – it’s just how things have happened for me.
- I broke my femur – two surgeries. I was just 18.
- Appendectomy – got it right before it ruptured.
- Had to have a stomach scope for a duodenal ulcer (got that ulcer from too many inflammatories being prescribed).
- A bone spur in my foot – probably because I broke my leg and it put unnecessary pressure on my foot.
- Plantar Fasciitis – had this sort of “ultrasound blast,” wherein my heels were hit with ultrasound waves to break up the problem.
- C-section – the second child was breech.
And I don’t even think I included them all. These events have left me with an intimate knowledge of how doctors prescribe pain killers. These were all different doctors, across different disciplines, in different offices and hospitals but they all had one thing in common.
How Doctors Prescribed Painkillers
Here are the four things doctors DON’T tell you about painkillers:
- They don’t tell you that they are highly addictive. Ever. I have been prescribed every painkiller imaginable because I had allergic reactions to most of them. They were always switching them up for me to find the right cocktail that would alleviate pain and not cause any reactions. Never, ever, ever did any doctor EVER – across every hospital, doctor’s office, emergency room – tell me, “Hey, Julie – these pills are for pain only and you must be acutely aware that they are addictive.”
- They don’t tell you what happens when you stop taking them. I’ve become somewhat of an expert in my own personal withdrawal symptoms. Back when I broke my leg and was taking Lortab AND morphine – I noticed that when I didn’t get the pills right on time I would become wildly emotional. Angry. Crying. IN PAIN. I would yell at my poor mother who was taking care of me. I would yell at everyone, actually. I didn’t know it was withdrawal. I thought I was just mad about being stuck in a hospital bed at age 18 while all my friends were at the beach. Eventually, I saw the cause and effect of the timing of taking the medication.
- They don’t tell you how to ween yourself off of the painkillers. More times than not I was offered MORE painkillers, not ways to get off of them. They would say, “Here’s how you’re supposed to take these but some people can’t tolerate the pain in this short of time. So call me and I’ll send in another prescription for you.” I trained myself to recognize my emotional outbursts as withdrawal symptoms and to wait them out so that I wouldn’t have to take another pain pill for relief. No doctor recommended that.
- They don’t tell you that painkillers are heroin. I don’t know how many times I have to tell you this. It’s the same medical compound. Heroin = painkillers. Painkillers = heroin. Same exact thing. If it said “HEROIN,” on the bottle maybe it would remind you how serious it is that you take the pills sparingly. Maybe if your doctor said, “This is HEROIN, Julie. It has serious side effects, one being withdrawal – just like actual drug addicts experience. Do you want to be a drug addict? Then take this seriously and don’t overdo it. Your objective should be to get off the pain meds, not continue taking them.” Maybe if she said that – you’d be careful. And not get addicted.
But right now, doctors don’t tell you these things. So I am telling you. And you should tell every single person you know who might be having a procedure or know someone who is having a procedure the four things listed in this blog.
Don’t become an unsuspecting addict. Know what you’re taking and follow the rules. Remember what I said about painkillers being heroin. It can save your life.