Addiction to painkillers is becoming a tragic side effect of failed back surgery. A startling number of back patients are becoming addicted to medication and finding themselves “kicking a habit” they never dreamed they could fall victim to.
To cope with extreme back pain, doctors prescribe large doses of addictive painkillers, Prozac, sleeping pills, anti-seizure and anti-psychotic drugs. Patients describe themselves as “walking drug stores.” And their back problems still aren’t solved.
“Over-medication has reached epidemic proportions. Back pain patients are turning into addicts,” warns Dr. Kenneth Light. The problem typically begins as patients, desperate to be pain free, go from doctor to doctor, receiving ever-increasing dosages of habit-forming medication along the way.
“Over-prescribing painkillers is a poor substitute for proper diagnosis and treatment,” says Dr. Light. “Patients need to be better informed by their doctors about treatment options. Pills are Band-Aids, not solutions.”
More than fifty percent of Dr. Light’s patients arrive in his office frustrated as a result of prior failed back surgeries. And a shocking 25 percent of these patients are addicted to painkillers.
“I’ve had patients taking 15 to 20 Vicodin a day. They live for pills and this often results in job loss, family problems, low self esteem, and a ‘habit’ they never imagined they’d have,” says Dr. Light. “We have to educate the population, both patients and doctors, about prescription drug addiction and its tie to chronic back pain.”
Some patients need corrective surgery, while many can be treated more conservatively. Personalized exercise programs, physical therapy techniques, and simple life style changes can frequently solve back problems. If and when pain medication is appropriate, it is given in low dosages and prescribed for short periods of time.
With detoxification and follow up care, Dr. Light concludes that 90% of drug addicted patients who come to the San Francisco Spine Center are able to conquer their drug problems and return to a normal life.
“Addiction to painkillers can be avoided if patients seek out highly trained spinal surgeons who can diagnose and correct back problems.” Dr. Light says, “A key factor in diagnosing correctly is the doctor’s ability to listen to the patient.”