The researchers conducted lengthy telephone interviews with 23 patients after they were discharged from the emergency department of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Each patient had been treated for pain connected to injuries including broken arm or leg bones, back injuries or kidney stones.

Lack of Communication a Common Concern

Some of the main themes that arose during these interviews were questions surrounding addiction to prescription painkillers and a reliance on information from various sources other than the doctors prescribing and overseeing pain drugs. Many of the patients were fearful about dependence and addiction, and some had incorrect information about the possibility of addiction.

Many of the patients felt that communication among their various healthcare providers was fragmented and that they themselves were not active participants in discussions about treatment options and preferences. Perhaps because of this, patients’ primary sources of information about opioid dependence and addiction were more likely to be friends, family members or the television, rather than their healthcare providers.

Many patients also believed that taking opioid medications according to a prescription prevented any possibility of addiction to these drugs. While taking addictive drugs strictly according to a prescription does make the possibility of addiction very small, it does not eliminate the risk. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a small but indeterminate number of people do become addicted to these drugs even when they take them as prescribed.

Yet despite most of the patients believing these drugs are risk free if taken properly, fears and concerns were still prominent, as well as a desire for more thorough discussions with their physicians. Having the opportunity to speak in detail with their healthcare providers may help patients feel more comfortable with their medications, even if this means having a clearer idea of the small but real risks that are involved. For some patients, a better understanding of their various pain management options may mean that they choose not to take prescription opioids.

Videos Help Educate Pain Patients About Opioids

Unfortunately, hospital emergency departments are often extremely busy places where providers may not find the opportunity to have the lengthy discussions about medications that patients desire. Following the results of this study, the researchers at the Perelman School are developing short, narrative videos that can be played for patients in the emergency department to help them understand the options for managing pain. Once these videos have been created, the researchers will test them as an intervention method to find out whether they can improve patients’ responses after they are released from the emergency department.

Educating pain management patients about opioid drugs is an important line of defense against the prescription drug abuse epidemic. Since 1991, prescriptions for opioid drugs have nearly tripled. With so many of these drugs in circulation, dependence, abuse and addiction related to prescription drugs have also been increasing. Opioid abuse currently affects between 26 million and 36 million people worldwide and around 2.1 million people in the United States. Unintentional overdose deaths involving prescription opioid drugs have quadrupled since 1999.



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