Treating Patients in the Setting of an Opioid Epidemic

Kimberly TschetterBy Kimberly Tschetter, PA-C

While educating patients about risk factors and treatment options is a critical and typical part of any provider’s day, there is one topic most of my patients are already familiar with: the opioid epidemic. I have met many grandparents who have lost a loved one to Percocet or heroin, or must now raise their grandchildren alone. Haunted by this brutal albatross, an uneasy question arises around treating pain: Do I prescribe this patient a narcotic?

Treating pain permeates across all health care specialties and professions. Pain is personal and subjective, but, for that, very real and often all-consuming. The opioid epidemic poses a vexing dilemma. As compassionate health care providers, we must consider it our duty to relieve suffering. But, this duty to relieve suffering must be balanced against the risk of potential narcotic addiction.

I have talked with Urban Service Track students driven to frustration and anxiety by this dilemma around pain treatment. Unfortunately, there is no universally-applicable resolution. Faced with uncertainty, I encourage young health care professionals to reach out to their interdisciplinary teams of fellow health care professionals. These team members have information and knowledge necessary to form a holistic understanding of patients and their situations, and are students' comrades in the struggle to treat patients among the ambivalences of the opioid epidemic.

The uneasiness we each feel making difficult medical decisions never disappears completely; however, this perpetual unease is determined by our indispensable responsibility for the health of individuals and populations. Each of us must make difficult decisions in the murky gyre of the opioid epidemic. Reach out to each other, over and over again. I promise: your community will lighten the burden.

To leave a response to this post, please email Ellen Ravens-Seger.