“Drug-seeking”. “Med-seeking”. They’re labels with very negative connotations that are often tossed around quite freely when it comes to medications with the potential for abuse. They tend to be applied most readily to people take pain medications or 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? Why is seeking medications okay in some instances but not in others?
And is the issue the medications themselves, or preconceptions and judgments 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.
The unfortunate effect of this is that people whose chronic pain was managed on opioids are having their doses decreased, meaning 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 to them 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 with a genuine therapeutic indication for those medications 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.
I think at least some of this comes front the cover-your-ass attitude that’s so prevalent in healthcare. Healthcare 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.
There’s more on stigma on my stop stigma page.
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