“Drug-seeking.” “Med-seeking.” They’re labels with very negative connotations, but health care providers often use them to refer to patients taking medications with the potential for abuse. Yet isn’t anyone going to see their doctor for a prescription seeking out drugs? Why is seeking medications okay in some instances but not in others?
If “medication compliance” is expected, perhaps what the “drug-seeking” label really represents is stigmatized attitudes towards patients with certain conditions, like chronic pain or mental illness.
The opioid overdose epidemic is a good example of how judgment cloaked in good intentions can deprive people of much-needed medication. Yes, there are serious issues with people becoming addicted to opioids and some people dying from overdoses. Because of this, there’s tremendous pressure on doctors to decrease opioid dosages and avoid giving them to people as much as possible.
Unfortunately, this means that people who were able to manage their pain with opioids are facing reductions in their dosages. That means less pain control. People trying to stay on the dose that had stabilized them are likely to be labelled as drug-seeking. If someone had to take a few extra to get them through a bad flare, good luck trying to get their prescription refilled early.
Benzos and stimulants
When it comes to mental illness, stimulants and benzodiazepines tend to be most commonly linked to the drug-seeking label. Sure, they can be abused, and that’s a problem. However, it doesn’t mean that people taking those medications therapeutically should be treated as second-class citizens.
A pharmacy that I went to in the past started acting like I was sketchy when I started taking the stimulant Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine). All of a sudden, they were asking a bunch of questions and requiring photo ID every time I picked up my meds. I decided screw that and switched to a different pharmacy. My current pharmacy is better, but they still handle the Dexedrine differently from my other meds. I can’t request a refill be processed using their automated phone system; for that particular medication, I have to speak to someone directly. when I pick it up, they make me wait to speak to a pharmacist before they’ll give it to me.
The Netflix documentary Take Your Pills feeds into the drug-seeking narrative regarding stimulants. This post about stigma and Take Your Pills looks at some of the problematic messaging the film contains.
Why the attitude?
This isn’t the only stigmatized label that gets attached to patients, especially patients who have a mental illness. “Attention-seeking” is another common one that’s a twist on help-seeking, which is encouraged.
I think at least some of this comes front the cover-your-ass attitude that’s so prevalent in health care. Health care providers don’t want it coming back on them that a patient is doing something “wrong,” so they try to make sure they’re not giving anyone the opportunity. So much for patient-centred care; CYA wins out more often than not.
We deserve better than being judged by the medications we take and the conditions we have. We could use more compassion and less cover-your-ass.
You can find more on mental illness stigma on the Stop the Stigma page.