An article in the February 2nd edition of the Baltimore Sun stressed the difference between drug users who are addicted to recreational and other drugs and those who are physically dependent on painkillers. The article by Anthony Tommasello was prompted by the story of Baltimore sportscaster Keith Mills, who was arrested for stealing prescription painkillers from his neighbor, who was suffering from cancer.|
The article points out that by 2002, nearly 30 million people had used prescription pain relievers for non-medical purposes at some point in their life, and that 1.5 million were dependent on them, according to statistics issued by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
In his article, Tommasello hopes to point out the difference between dependency and addiction, stating that “the biological processes involved in the relief of pain are precisely the same processes that lead to physical dependence.”
“If someone is on a sufficient dose for long enough, that person is going to become physically dependent,” Tommasello stresses. “There is nothing that science can do to avoid that. It is simply a side effect of the long-term use of narcotic drugs.”
The author believes it is counterproductive to label such dependent individuals as drug addicts. “That person's problem is pain, not addiction. Labeling him or her as a drug addict can ignite feelings of shame and guilt, a stigma unwarranted in these patients.”
Physicians, he notes, should not be sending these dependent patients to drug addiction treatment programs but rather should be referring them to pain management specialists. A number of other steps can be taken as well, he notes, to avoid dependency.
“When doctors start prescribing pain relief medication, they need to have a protocol for drug management from start to finish,” Tommasello states, “rather than simply adjusting the medication without a thorough strategy. The physician's strategy should include a plan to wean the patient off painkillers - when it is reasonable to do so - but also to continue effective treatment as long as it is necessary.”