Ophelia had been clean from drug use for ten years when she was in a bad car accident. While she survived without any permanent damage, she had painful injuries. The doctors provided morphine before she was fully conscious. Then they provided her a prescription for another opioid painkiller.
Opiates had never been Ophelia’s drug of choice, but the prescription drugs triggered her addiction anyway. Mere months later, she overdosed on heroin. Fortunately, she survived and had to return to rehab to once again treat her addiction.
Ophelia’s tragic story is familiar to many recovering addicts. Many American doctors prescribe addictive medications without much thought into the potential for abuse. Often, they do not check whether the patient has a history of addiction, even if the patient is fully conscious.
This leads many recovering addicts to ask the question: how do I ensure I am not prescribed addictive medication? What happens if I am rushed to hospital and unable to reject opioid painkillers?
Here are the steps you can take to ensure you are not prescribed addictive medication.
Disclose your addiction when you see a medical provider
As long as you are fully conscious in the scenario, always disclose your history with addiction immediately. This should apply whether you are visiting a GP, specialist, surgeon, and any other medical provider who is able to write a prescription.
For many medical practitioners, addiction is simply not top of mind. They may not have worked with addiction before. Alternatively, they may be swamped with a heavy workload (especially if they work in a hospital) and will prescribe whatever will treat your issue with minimum fuss.
By disclosing your addiction history, even if they do not ask, they have no choice but to consider your context when making decisions.
Give instructions to your next of kin
Unfortunately, in the most high-pressure situations, you may not have the wherewithal to disclose your history. For example, if you are in an accident or suffer a medical emergency and are not fully conscious, the doctor on call may give you addictive medications.
For this reason, you should give instructions to your next of kin for what to do in case of an emergency. This is the person who the hospital will call in to be with you and make any decisions when you cannot.
It is a good idea to provide detailed information to your next of kin even if you do not suffer from an addiction disorder. It is helpful to give someone you trust your medical proxy, along with all your wishes if you are unable to express them yourself. It ensures that your wishes will be followed, rather than those of a well-meaning family member with ideas of their own.
Carry a card
Many people carry organ donor cards in order to inform paramedics or doctors about their organ donor status before it is too late. These cards give medical professionals the implicit instruction to donate the patient’s organs if they cannot be saved.
Consider carrying a card disclosing your addiction history in your wallet alongside this. This can be a card of your own making that will simply provide the information when your next of kin cannot be reached.
Will I face discrimination?
There is a reason many former addicts choose not to disclose their addiction history when seeing medical practitioners. They fear that they will receive subpar treatment based on discrimination against them. There are some people who are wilfully ignorant to the fact that addiction is an illness, and think of addicts as people who have harmed themselves.
Unfortunately, this fear is not unreasonable. Some doctors will use legal wiggle room in order to deny organ transplants to addicts (or to move them to the bottom of the waiting list). However, the stakes are too high when it comes to prescription medication to not disclose your addiction history.
When searching for medical practitioners, try to find providers who have experience working with recovering and former addicts. You can even ask your rehab or other recovering addicts for recommendations.
Of course, you do not necessarily have the option to choose a practitioner in case of an emergency. In these cases, you will have to trust that practitioners will follow their ethical and legal imperatives to provide you the best possible care. The chance of relapsing due to use of opioids in the hospital is too high to ignore because of the potential for discrimination.
Navigating the healthcare system as a recovering addict can be difficult. To ensure you do not get prescribed addictive medication, always disclose your addiction history. In case of emergencies, prepare your next of kin with the information they need to make the best decisions for you.