Five Questions to Ask Your Doctor about Opioids
By Dr. David Dierks, Emergency Department Physician
Dr. David Dierks
If you watch the news or scroll through social media, you’ve likely seen something about the opioid epidemic happening in America. I see the consequences of this in the emergency department. According to the Centers for Disease Control Prevention, 115 Americans die every day from opioid overdose. You don’t need a doctor to tell you that this is a serious crisis.
As medical professionals, we are looking at how we prescribe opioids, educating our patients about the risks, and what they should do if they become addicted. But the last thing we want is for the conversation to be one-sided; patients should feel free to ask questions to determine if an opioid prescription is the right option for them.
Here are five simple questions every patient should ask their doctor about opioids:
1. What is the risk for addiction?
Whether you become addicted to an opioid depends on many factors, including the type of opioid, your medical history, and addiction to other substances like alcohol. This is a great question to ask your family doctor who knows your medical history. But even if you’re in the emergency department, do not hesitate to ask the provider or nurse that same question.
2. Are alternatives to opioids available?
When it comes to pain management, opioids are not always the right choice. Depending on the severity of pain, some patients can take over-the-counter ibuprofen or acetaminophen and experience adequate relief; others require something more potent.
Regardless of the drug prescribed, note that it’s only supposed to be taken for a short amount of time. Chronic pain should be addressed through other means, such as physical therapy or by visiting a pain management center like the Genesis Spine and Joint Health Center.
3. How long will I take this prescription?
The answer varies depending on the specific medication you’re prescribed. Ultimately the answer depends on your diagnosis, medical history, and if you’re at a greater risk for developing a dependency. Asking your doctor this question will help start a necessary conversation.
4. What about the dosage? Is this the smallest amount possible?
The amount prescribed depends again on the diagnosis. As a doctor, I try to keep the dosage as low as possible. Regardless of a history of substance abuse or addiction, patients should ask the prescribing physician about the prescribed dosage and its potential impact—and if another form of pain management would be more appropriate.
5. Will I eventually take something else for my pain?
As a patient, it’s critical to build a plan with your doctor to diminish the amount taken. As you heal, pain should naturally decrease. This is when you can slowly decrease how much you’re taking, or when you may start subbing in over-the-counter pain relief drugs like ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
Every patient is different. And if you’re having a conversation with a provider who’s unaware of your medical history, it’s important for you to be forthright in communicating that information.
Conversation is key
When all is said and done, we as medical professionals want to effectively manage your pain. But we also want to minimize the risk of addiction. That responsibility should be a shared one between doctor and patient.
Need resources? Learn more about opioids and alternative forms of pain management at www.genesishealth.com/Opioid