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"Long term opioid therapy patients are addicted to their medications"

The Tired Narrative: 

News articles are reported with the assumption that harms related to taking prescription opioids outweigh the benefits for patients. Journalists often deploy statistics like 4 out of 5 people who currently do heroin began their addiction with prescription painkillers, suggesting that prescribed pain relievers are a gateway to heroin addiction. 


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The potential benefits that opioids have on patients, such as better mobility and increased quality of life are rarely discussed. Instead, patients are assumed to be addicted to their prescribed medicine, conflating the difference between substance use disorder and physiological dependence.  


The Informed Narrative: 

Drugs are neither good nor bad. It is important for journalists to resist demonizing substances that have harmed people because those substances may help others. 


Every individual patient's story is also different. It is important to speak to patients undergoing opioid therapy about what their life is like and how they feel about taking opioids. What are the benefits? What are the negative side-effects? Ask about their condition, other treatments that work and don't work, what their quality of life is, and how the opioid crisis has affected their treatment.

Prescriptions for opioids have been declining since 2012. During that same time, overdose deaths from heroin and illicit fentanyl have soared. Simply reducing the volume of prescribed opioids does not necessarily result in fewer overdose deaths. 


Over-prescribing opioids has been identified as one of many catalysts that have sparked the current overdose crisis. Efforts to reduce the supply of prescription opioids has spilled into a severely debilitated population of patients on opioid therapy. This group and the doctors who treat them are bearing the brunt of restrictive policies that interfere with their treatment.

Connect with Expert Sources:

Anne Fuqa, pain patient/advocate

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Dr. Stefan Kertesz, addiction medicine physician, University of Alabama, Birmingham

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Kate Nicholson, Civil Rights & Disability Rights Attorney

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