Treating Addiction Within the Health Care System

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Dr. Nora Volkow knows a few things about treating addiction within the health care system and not just because she’s a doctor and Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. She knows about addiction because she has personally experienced the power of opioid pain medications.

A Personal Journey

Dr. Volkow was given an injection of Demerol in the ER after she broke her leg in a car accident. She says it was “an extraordinary experience”; not only did her pain go away, but she had “an incredible sense of well-being.” In fact, she fought the sleepiness brought on by the drug so she could hold on to that sensation. When she was released from the hospital, she was given a two-month prescription for opioids that would cover pain “around the clock.” But she realized what could happen once the prescription was finished: the craving for more. And so she refused to take them.

But for too many people, a trip to the hospital can begin a life of addiction.

What happens when the health care system, instead of relieving the pain and suffering, creates it?  Volkow says that’s essentially what has happened in the United States. Thanks to careless prescribing, our health care system started an addiction crisis of epic proportions. How can it be stopped?

Finding Solutions

Volkow has some ideas about that: integrating behavioral care into routine health care, creating a system where practitioners are better at identifying people at risk for addiction, chronic-pain medications that don’t come with the added risk of abuse and addiction.

Volkow sees a future where treatment that is tailored to each individual, in which an opioid prescription is not the first or only option.

Dr. Volkow’s Quality Talk, takes us on her journey both as practitioner and patient – and explains why she sees the light at the end of the tunnel. We encourage you to watch it!

Cindy Peña
Cindy is Senior Communications Manager at NCQA. Her focus is building consumer awareness through media and public relations. A communications and public engagement strategist with a background steeped in TV news reporting, Cindy is also part of NCQA’s Creative Services unit developing messaging through visual storytelling.

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