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To Patients Using Opioid Medications: Be Smart, Be Safe, Be Sure.

By Scott Shapiro, MD

Recent data for Pennsylvania shows that 10,394,466 prescriptions for opioid medications were filled by patients in 2015.  In other words, there was nearly 1 opioid prescription for every single citizen of Pennsylvania.

As alarming as that number is, it’s actually down from more than 11.3 million two years earlier. In fact, every state in the country saw a decrease in the number of opioid analgesics prescriptions filled in 2015 according to new data from IMS Health.

However, the fact doesn’t change that Pennsylvanians are being prescribed a very high number of opioids, and it’s easy to see that too many Pennsylvanians are becoming addicted and misusing opioids. As overdose statistics suggests, misuse can be deadly.  A report from the Drug Enforcement Administrationidentified 2,497 drug-related Pennsylvania overdose deaths in 2014 including those who used opioid pain pills. Those 2,497 people are someone’s parent, child, grandparent, or loved one.

That’s why the Pennsylvania Medical Society is starting a statewide public health initiative to empower concerned patients. The Pennsylvania Medical Society believes that an empowered patient is a safer patient because they will be smart and sure about opioid use.

Patients deserve the best care, and if there are no alternatives to relieving a person’s pain, they certainly should be able to have access to an opioid. Let’s not demonize a medicine that might be the right option for some patients, particularly those facing extreme pain or possibly end-of-life care.

But at the same time, let’s be smart. Let’s be safe. And, let’s be sure.

The Pennsylvania Medical Society’s Be Smart, Be Safe and Be Sure initiative empowers patients to ask important questions to their health care providers – questions that will help patients understand their course of treatment better.

You can’t predict the potential addictive effect a drug can have on you. Everyone’s brain and body chemistry are different. Everyone’s tolerance for drugs is different.

However, you can ask questions before taking that pill.  Patients need to ask their doctors several important questions when a prescription is written.

  1. Is this prescription an opioid?
  2. At what level of pain should I take this prescription?
  3. Do I have to take every pill in the prescription?
  4. Where can I safely dispose of remaining pills?
  5. What can I do to avoid addiction?
  6. What are possible warning signs of dependence or addiction?
  7. What can I do if I believe that I might have developed a dependence on this drug?
For concerned patients, these are good questions to ask your doctor.


Scott Shapiro, MD, is president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society.

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