Be a Consumer, Not Just a Patient to Avoid Opioid Addiction

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Elisabeth is a 13-time Emmy-winner, a critically acclaimed personal finance author and a 20-year consumer advocate for programs such as Good Morning America and The Dr. Oz Show.
Connect with her via Twitter @ElisabethLeamy and on her website,

When the Dr. Oz Show asked me to go undercover and see how easy it was to get prescribed opioid drugs —often called the gateway drugs to heroin— I was eager to do it because I was worried about what we’d find.

You see, two years ago I was in a car accident. It was little more than a fender bender, but my neck hurt and I felt I should get it checked out just to make sure there wasn’t something serious wrong. So I went to a local emergency room. I never described my pain as severe and the X-rays didn’t show any fractures. And yet for this puny pain, the ER prescribed a powerful drug: Vicodin. It was no fluke, this was the normal routine. I know this because husband who was also in minor pain after this accident received the same major prescription.

Two years later, I’m happy to say that only one out of the four medical offices we visited wrote a prescription for an opioid painkiller. And only because I asked for Percocet by name, the way an addict might. Furthermore, the prescriber, a physician assistant, only gave me five pills. All three other medical offices suggested milder, non habit-forming pain medications. Some of them even lectured me about the dangers of narcotic painkillers!

This change of heart could be because the law is cracking down, monitoring prescribers who dole out too many controlled substances. They can be kicked out of Medicare, which endangers their livelihood. The medical field is also in the midst of various educational campaigns to make sure doctors know how habit-forming opioid painkillers can be. I think that’s great, but I believe in self-responsibility, too.

In my blogs, I’ve often encouraged people to think of themselves as consumers, not just patients, at the doctor’s office. I usually mean it in the context of getting the care you want – lab tests you want to try, diagnoses you want the doctor to consider, and so on. Now it occurs to me that this advice also applies to avoiding interventions you don’t want.