A recent study from the University of Surrey reveals an escalating dependence on pain medication, attributing the trend to a lack of vigilance among medical professionals. Individuals relying on pain medication express a sense of living in a fog and feeling neglected and misunderstood by the medical community.

In the inaugural study of its kind in the UK, Louise Norton and Dr. Bridget Dibb from the University of Surrey delved into the experiences of patients dependent on medication for chronic pain. Standard pharmacological treatments for chronic pain often involve substances with potential for addiction, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, gabapentinoids, and opioids.

The heightened prescription rates of these pain relief medications have been linked to increased instances of overdose and misuse. Dr. Bridget Dibb, Senior Lecturer in Health Psychology at the University of Surrey, emphasizes the growing prevalence of chronic pain and its impact on daily life, potentially leading to depression and anxiety. While medication can alleviate pain, there is a risk of dependence that may harm vital organs like the liver and kidneys.

Addressing this issue requires understanding individuals’ experiences, perceptions of dependence, and interactions with the medical profession, according to Dr. Dibb. Interviews with nine participants dependent on pain medication revealed feelings of disconnection and frustration due to treatment side effects. Many expressed dissatisfaction with the limited alternative treatment options on the NHS, citing the overprescription of medications.

Participants also recounted negative interactions with medical professionals, some attributing their dependence to these encounters. The lack of continuity between doctors was cited as a factor contributing to overlooked opportunities for identifying dependence.

Louise Norton highlighted the significant impact of relationships with medical professionals on the experiences of those dependent on painkillers. The authority figure status of doctors may deter patients from questioning their treatment options. Norton suggests that thorough information provision can foster shared decision-making, empowering patients to manage chronic pain more effectively.

The study also noted that participants felt stigmatized when discussing their dependence, facing a lack of understanding about their reliance on prescribed pain medications. This stigma left them feeling ashamed and self-critical.

Dr. Dibb emphasized the emotional challenges faced by those dependent on prescription painkillers, including shame, guilt, and a sense of being misunderstood. She calls for increased vigilance among medical professionals during the prescription process, ensuring that patients are fully aware of the risks of dependence before starting treatment.

 

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