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Medical community avoided discussions about opioid crisis


A paragraph in an Akron Beacon Journal story last fall raised tough questions about the medical industry. The story was about a local hospital successfully managing pain following surgery by prescribing medications other than addictive opioid painkillers.

The paragraph said this of the nonopioid experiment: “The patients were easy to convince. It was tough to convince the other surgeons, anesthesiologists and nurses because it challenged their typical teachings.”

Opioids are the drugs killing more than 4,000 Ohioans a year, and a study by the state showed that 80 percent of those who died of an overdose were at one time prescribed an opioid medication.

The medical community needs to see that some people are terrified. There is a fear of waking from surgery with a drug dripping into their veins that has the potential to alter their brains. And for those in the grips of addiction, they fear dying of an overdose, or of not getting the next dose.

Yet, a retired pastor friend recalled a recent emergency room visit in which an opioid was handed to him for a fractured bone. He declined the medicine and asked for something different. He still was charged for the opioid because it already had been dispensed — it’s that much a part of the culture.

In the past five months, a coalition of more than 30 Ohio media organizations called Your Voice Ohio held eight community meetings in the state’s hardest hit communities — Dayton, Middletown, Cincinnati, Youngstown, Warren and rural southwest Ohio. It will hold three more in central Ohio this month — in Hilliard on April 22, Marion on April 23 and Newark on April 24.

The Your Voice Ohio community conversations about the opioid crisis in central Ohio are free and open to the public. Seating is limited, so to make a reservation, go to www.facebook.com/YourVoiceOhio/.

What became clear in the earlier conversations was a dramatic expression of both terror and desperation in families struggling with opioids, and that some of those who have a role in the crisis — public officials and, in particular, the medical industry — were not there to hear it.

Over and over, people in the community meetings shared this idea: Every person can gain from participating in conversation with all of the stakeholders and thinking about a small role he or she can play in making a difference.

And meeting participants took note: Doctors and hospitals writing prescriptions for opioids were largely missing from the conversations.

In the eight community meetings that attracted more than 300 people, four medical doctors voluntarily showed up — one a psychiatrist wondering how best to treat those with addiction and the three others in the business of managing opioid recovery. There were no hospitals or doctors in the business of prescribing medication.

One person asked at a Youngstown-Warren area meeting, “Can the medical community become more involved?”

At the earlier community forums, families, people in recovery, local officials, local volunteers and journalists discussed — sometimes in intimate, tearful stories — the suffering wrought by this drug.

The role of doctors and pharmacists in the crisis has been a topic of discussion at all meetings.

A presentation last fall at Ohio State by a medical ethicist accused the media of misrepresenting the facts. He said that doctors followed acute-pain protocol: Certain levels of pain required treatment. He said the medical community has no culpability — that doctors were just doing their jobs.

But if you listen to the community conversations, others were just doing their jobs, too. Injured construction workers and coal miners went to doctors, received prescriptions for addictive drugs and followed the instructions on the bottles. And some became hooked.

Doctors would be well served to join the conversation.

The Your Voice Ohio project is a collaborative of more than 30 news outlets in Ohio, working together to provide more comprehensive stories about the issues facing the people of the state. The goal is to represent the diverse voices of the people, to show how communities are working to solve problems and to serve our role as an integral part of democracy.

Part of the mission of the Your Voice Ohio project is to help journalists see themselves as part of the community — of having ownership of problems and solutions.

In listening to conversations about opioids, it’s clear that some people hold the medical community accountable for having a role in the crisis and its resolution.

Does the medical community want to leave it at that, or join the conversation?

Doug Oplinger is retired managing editor of the Akron Beacon Journal, where he worked for 46 years. He now directs the Your Voice Ohio media collaborative.

doplinger@yourvoiceohio.org

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