Home > health/safety > Looks Like I Picked the Wrong Week to Stop Sniffing Glue

Looks Like I Picked the Wrong Week to Stop Sniffing Glue

Thursday, September 30, 2010, 17:07 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

The post title is one of my favorite lines from the 1970s spoof Airplane!, but substance abuse and drug dependency are no laughing matter. This morning, I had the unfortunate opportunity to witness first-hand how hard it can be for people to stop using addictive drugs, even those taken as prescribed for a legitimate purpose.

One of my dear friends is recuperating from major surgery involving multiple large incision sites. Because of the nature of the surgery and the high degree of pain involved, her doctor prescribed hydromorphone (most commonly known by one of its brand names, Dilaudid) for pain relief. After four weeks, the doctor recommended that she begin to wean herself off the medication.

What my friend didn’t know, and the doctor didn’t tell her, is that hydromorphone is a powerful morphine derivative with a moderately high potential for dependency that is belied by the tablet’s small size. So she had no way of knowing that increasing the time between doses from four hours to six hours the day before yesterday wasn’t sufficient to wean herself from the drug. When I was at her house this morning, the beginning of day two without the drug, she was experiencing severe headache, hot and cold flashes, what she described as an overall tingling sensation, and emotional lability.

I’m not a doctor and I don’t play one on TV, but I knew enough to recognize her symptoms as withdrawal and tell her she can’t stop this drug cold turkey. I took the liberty of cutting a few of her tablets in half and advised her to take half a pill every 6 hours for a couple days. She resisted (“I just don’t want to take this any more”) but I insisted and threatened to morph—no pun intended—into Nurse Ratched if she gave me any more trouble. Beyond that, I didn’t know what to recommend.

I have since spoken to a nurse with detox experience. I learned from her that it takes more than just a couple days to come off hydromorphone, and that another dose reduction might also be necessary. This evening, I will stop by her house, share the information I got from the nurse, and recommend that she call her doctor and demand a specific plan to reduce and end use of the drug.

What angers me is that my friend is at the mercy of a lay person with a little medical knowledge (practicing medicine without a license, I called it) because a physician who should have known better gave a patient insufficient information about this drug and no guidance about the need or the method to properly taper her usage. So on top of continuing pain as her incisions heal, she is now going through painful withdrawal.

Opioids are serious and dangerous drugs that should be treated as such by the doctors who prescribe them. With a license to dispense controlled substances comes a responsibility to educate patients so they don’t experience the suffering of withdrawal or, even worse, addiction.

Categories: health/safety
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