Dr. Atul Gawande: 'Surgeons are unwittingly enablers of addiction'

Atul Gawande, MD, a cancer surgeon at Boston-based Brigham and Women's Hospital, said surgeons have unwittingly contributed to the opioid overdose crisis.

In an article published in the April 2017 issue of the Annals of Surgery, Dr. Gawande writes surgeons overprescribe opioids for pain relief to avoid situations in which patients must suffer because their physicians prescribed an insufficient dosage.

"Surgeons may often intentionally overprescribe narcotic pain relievers to meet the needs of 99 percent of patients (if not 100 percent). Why? Because, under federal regulations, patients stranded with an insufficient supply for their pain have no straightforward way to get a refill without a written prescription. I once had a patient arrive home out of state after surgery only to find he'd been inadvertently discharged without his script for pain medication. By then, he was miserable with pain. His pharmacy would not accept an emergency prescription by phone. A family member therefore had to drive back to the hospital two hours in the middle of the night to pick up a written prescription. It is the kind of experience patients and surgeons are both eager to avoid."

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