Seth Mnookin is recovering from a three-year addiction to heroin, which he kicked in 1997. So when he went to Massachusetts General Hospital to be treated for kidney stones that left him in severe pain, he made sure to tell every medical professional he encountered about his history with addiction. "And while my doctors all said they were aware of the issue, it still felt as if no one was listening," he writes on Stat. He ended up leaving with a prescription for the opioid painkiller oxycodone—but no one offered him any counseling, guidance, or advice for how to manage his pain without relapsing into addiction. And, though there was a mild safeguard put into place (he was not given a full week's worth of pills all at once), he easily got the prescription refilled two times in the course of a week, and at no point did anyone counsel him.
Though he and his wife worked out a plan (she'd keep the pills and strictly monitor his usage) and stuck to it, a bladder infection kept him in more pain. But he declined a third refill, and only after speaking to a friend—another recovering addict—did he realize why he still felt so lousy. "You’re in mild withdrawal," the friend said. "He was right," Mnookin writes. "While two weeks of continuous use is quick to develop a physical dependence, it’s not unheard of, even in what doctors refer to as 'opioid naïve' patients—and dependence can occur even more quickly in people with a history with opioids." He was left feeling discouraged over how the hospital handled his case—no one spoke to him about how to wean off the painkillers, no one checked in on him to see how he was doing with the pills. And while some new guidelines for medical professionals are coming, "other simple reforms" that address this issue "are being ignored." Click for his full piece.