“Drug-seeking”. “Med-seeking”. They’re labels with very negative connotations that are often tossed around quite freely by health care providers when it comes to people taking medications with the potential for abuse. They tend to be applied most readily to those taking pain medications or certain psychiatric medications.
The notion of people being drug-seeking is heavily laden with judgment and stigma. After all, isn’t anyone going to see their doctor for a prescription seeking out drugs? Aren’t we called non-compliant if we don’t take our medications? Why is seeking medications okay in some instances but not in others?
And is the issue the medications themselves, or preconceptions and judgments on the part of health car professionals regarding people who take those medications?
The opioid overdose epidemic is a good example of how judgment cloaked in good intentions can deprive people of much-needed medication. Because some people are getting addicted and some of the people who are addicted end up overdosing, there is tremendous pressure being placed on doctors to decrease opioid dosages and avoid giving them to people as much as possible.
Unfortunately, this means that people whose chronic pain was managed on opioids are having their doses decreased. 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, I’d have to show photo ID and be asked a bunch of questions every time I picked up my meds. I decided screw that and switched to a different pharmacy. My current pharmacy is better, but the Dexedrine is still handled differently. I can’t request a refill be processed using their automated phone system; for that particular medication, I have to speak to someone directly. And 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 jumps on the drug-seeking train regarding stimulants. Give me a break
Why the attitude?
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 that 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.