In today's Time Magazine online, I look at new research on the use of opioids in the treatment of chronic pain. In fact, one of the things that got me interested in writing about empathy was the problem of untreated chronic pain- and the way that efforts to prevent addiction can interfere with our compassion for the suffering.
As I note in the article, the actual risk of addiction during pain treatment for most patients-who are middle aged and have no history of addiction-is between less than one third of a percent and 3%, according to the research. So why do so many people think the risk of addiction from taking these drugs is much higher?
Mainly, it's because addicts go where the drugs are-and so, if they can get them from doctors, they will. And, because doctors tend to have compassion for patients-and there's no objective way to measure pain-they will sometimes be fooled by those who are faking.
Some of those people will even later claim that the doctor turned them into an addict! Research finds, however, that 80% of people misusing the painkiller Oxycontin have also taken cocaine. Unless you want to believe that granddad decided to try coke when he realized how great Oxy was and went off to find a connection, prior history of drug problems is a better explanation for most patients' drug problems than addiction caused by pain treatment.