RP401 – Session 2.1: Addiction

Session Readings


Reflective Practice 401 – Addiction


In 2012, 259 million prescriptions for opioids were filled in the US – enough for every adult in the US to have a bottle of pills. Rates of opioid prescribing have increased by 7.3% from 2007 to 2012, with the most rapid increase occurring in primary care. In 2013, 1.9 million people in the US abused or were dependent on prescription opioids; 6.6% either abused or was dependent on alcohol, and 4.2 million were dependent on or abused marijuana. At the same time, as identified by the Institutes of Medicine, a large number of patients who have pain are underdiagnosed and untreated, something that disproportionately affects racial and ethnic minorities; people with lower levels of income and education; women, children, and older people; military veterans; surgery and cancer patients; and people at the end of life.

Physicians, particularly primary care physicians, enter medicine with the desire to help patients, alleviate suffering, and restore health. Perhaps for this reason, addressing situations in which we have a concern that one of our patients has become addicted to a substance and that patient disagrees and reports the need for pain relief can be quite challenging. Often we feel manipulated by the patient, and impotent to offer them anything meaningful that will help restore their health. One common response is to resent these patients and avoid them. Another is to tell them they are wrong and need to just stop. Both of these responses further ostracize the patient from the care and therapeutic relationship they need.

As we think about this topic, it is critical to recognize that while some perceive addiction to be a consequence of a “weak will”, resulting from poor choices, others identify addiction to be an illness. While it might be reassuring to believe that one’s perspective on the topic is borne out of proven scientific inquiry, the fact that we understand addiction poorly strongly suggests that our perspectives have more to do with our personal contexts (the experiences over the course of our lives) than with science. As such, we potentially enter a physician-patient relationship with long held biases and assumptions that may or may not pertain to the individual patient for whom we are caring at a given point in time.

Assignment: Come to the small group prepared to discuss the following: 

1. Reflect on a patient encounter you had with a patient you were concerned was struggling with addiction. What were the circumstances surrounding this visit?
2. Describe the emotions you experienced – when preparing for, during, and after this encounter.
3. In what ways (if any) was this interaction similar or different from those you have had with other patients who reported similar symptoms?
4. Do you feel you developed a therapeutic alliance with this patient? If so, how did this develop; if not, what did you do/not do that might have impeded this from happening?
5. What do you think you might do in the future if faced with a similar situation?

TEDxWhy we need to end the War on Drugs Why we should regulate drugs, rather then make such an effort to vanquish the drug trade.
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Why do our brains get addicted? Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the NIH, explains why addiction is a brain disease.
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intraininglogo21My First Ethical Dilemma Why one medical student kept the confidence of a drug addict who interacts with her family and church community.
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PulseConfessions of a 75-Year-Old Drug Addict The story of an older man who struggles with drug addiction after being prescribed high levels of Percocet while recovering from a pelvic fracture, and his struggle and shame in his inability to stay sober.
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TEDxEverything you think you know about addiction is wrong Johann Hari talks about the importance of love, connection, and community to help addicts recover, rather then punishment, shunning or dislike.
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Inquiring MindsThe Science of Weight Loss (and why diets don't work) (1hr) In this podcast, Inquiring Minds' hosts Indre Viskontas and Kishore Hari interview Traci Mann, professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota and author of the new book Secrets from the Eating Lab: The Science of Weight Loss, the Myth of Willpower, and Why You Should Never Diet Again.
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The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous "Why do we assume they failed the program, rather than that the program failed them?" Read about how the efficacy of 12-step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, are becoming increasingly debated.
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Session originally created by: Karlen Bader | Department of Medicine | Research Assistant, HJF | Nutritional Sciences