12 May Drug Abusers Are Using Emergency Room Visits To Obtain Prescription Painkillers
A broken arm, a smashed toe, or experiencing a severe allergic reaction is all undesirable surprises that bring people into emergency rooms. Other patients arrive in pain or trauma because of a chronic problem they had ignored or had never treated at annual check-ups.
Some of these patients are people who have dental emergencies. Either because of lack of insurance or lack of motivation, some people do not schedule preventive dental exams and will not see a physician until their pain in unbearable and lands them in the emergency room.
Doctors are used to seeing dental patients in the emergency room and have previously just provided a quick pain prescription and sent them on their way until they could get in to see a dentist for further procedures. Unfortunately, some patients are now using this act as a ruse to acquire narcotics to feed their drug addictions and doctors are put in the difficult position of figuring out whether the patient honestly needs the medicine or not.
Abusing Emergency Rooms
A new study published in Medical Care, is the first to record the frequency of administering prescription painkillers to emergency room visitors complaining of dental pain. Dr. Christopher Okunseri, a dentist and a professor from Marquette University School of Dentistry, analyzed records from 1997 to 2007 from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey for his study.
In those ten years, three out of four people who came into emergency rooms with dental pain went home with prescription painkillers. Also, over that decade, the percentage of prescription painkillers given to patients complaining of dental pain rose by 26 percent.
Unfortunately, some of these patients are abusing emergency care. Some patients are faking dental pain in order to get another prescription drug. These abuses are now conflicting doctors on whether to trust the patient’s word or withhold a potentially harmful narcotic from them.
Some doctors have figured out the game of some drug abusers. In one instance, a doctor said that he has had patients claim that they are allergic to all painkillers except Vicodin. But many other times, the doctors are helpless to object the request for painkillers from someone who claims that they are in pain.
Why Are Patients Getting Drugs They May Not Need
Emergency room doctors are often not skilled in taking care of dental emergencies and often lack the proper equipment to treat them. Therefore, the easiest remedy has been to prescribe a painkiller until the patient can visit a dentist.
There are multiple reasons that ER visitors are walking out with legal, yet potentially harmful drugs. Doctors often prescribe prescription painkillers because of the following:
- Lack of equipment, like X-ray machines for dental diagnosis to examine nerves of teeth
- Inexperience in giving dental blocks which are local anesthetic injections that last for up to 16 hours
- Save the time by writing a prescription rather than giving a dental block
- Don’t have access to computer records to see if patient is taking any other prescription painkillers
- Fear of being rated low on patient satisfaction survey for not treating pain adequately.
A Doctor’s Dilemma
When patients rush to an emergency room, they need to be treated immediately. It is the job of the ER personnel to administer this professional care. But today, doctors regret having to think twice about whether their prescription care will actually hurt rather than help their patient.
The changing methods of how drug abusers obtain their narcotics may eventually change the ways that emergency professionals are trained in emergency facilities.
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