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Mayo Clinic Proceedings: A Comprehensive Review of Addiction to Prescription Painkillers Among Patients and Physicians
Date:7/7/2009

ve sources: advances in the design of these drugs; expansion and innovation in methods of drug delivery; increased public awareness of pain management options and the appropriateness of aggressively treating pain as the "fifth vital sign" and pain relief as a fundamental human right; growing recognition of the serious consequences of opioid misuse, misadventure and addiction; and medicolegal aspects of practitioners' prescribing practices and legal consequences for under- or overprescribing.

In addition to individuals who have chronic pain, both cancer and non-cancer related, anesthesiologists have the greatest risk of opioid dependence and abuse among health care providers. Also in the high-risk group for health care providers are nurse anesthetists and sedation nurses. Challenges specific to these groups are discussed by Michael Oreskovich, M.D., Washington Physicians Health Program in Seattle, and Ryan Caldeiro, M.D., Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington, Seattle, in "Anesthesiologists Recovering From Chemical Dependency: Can They Safely Return to the Operating Room?"

Severe chronic pain includes that produced by cancer and such non-cancer conditions as back injury and surgery. Opioids are a cornerstone of pain management for individuals in these categories, according to Howard Smith, M.D., Department of Anesthesiology, Albany Medical College, N.Y. In "Opioid Metabolism," he writes that approximately 10 percent to 20 percent of physicians will develop a substance abuse problem during their career, a rate similar to or exceeding the general population. For anesthesiologists, according to Drs. Oreskovich and Caldeiro, the increased risk is cited as an occupational hazard because of the highly addictive medications they administer to patients daily.

Health care professionals helping patients with chronic pain must balance aggressive treatment with the
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