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How Good Intentions Contributed to Bad Outcomes: The Opioid Crisis

Teresa A Rummans, M Caroline Burton, Nancy L Dawson
Mayo Clinic Proceedings 2018, 93 (3): 344-350
29502564
The opioid crisis that exists today developed over the past 30 years. The reasons for this are many. Good intentions to improve pain and suffering led to increased prescribing of opioids, which contributed to misuse of opioids and even death. Following the publication of a short letter to the editor in a major medical journal declaring that those with chronic pain who received opioids rarely became addicted, prescriber attitude toward opioid use changed. Opioids were no longer reserved for treatment of acute pain or terminal pain conditions but now were used to treat any pain condition. Governing agencies began to evaluate doctors and hospitals on their control of patients' pain. Ultimately, reimbursement became tied to patients' perception of pain control. As a result, increasing amounts of opioids were prescribed, which led to dependence. When this occurred, patients sought more in the form of opioid prescriptions from providers or from illegal sources. Illegal, unregulated sources of opioids are now a factor in the increasing death rate from opioid overdoses. Stopping the opioid crisis will require the engagement of all, including health care providers, hospitals, the pharmaceutical industry, and federal and state government agencies.

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Michael O'Malley

What does "improve pain" mean?

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