How a banana peel introduced me to the opioid epidemic
Student perspective: How a banana peel introduced me to the opioid epidemic and how community pharmacy could’ve met my need
I was a junior in college when I slipped on a banana peel and broke my leg. Long story short, I had fractured the growth plate in my fibula and required surgery. The ER surgeon wrote for a 30-day supply of opioid medication assuming that the surgeon he referred me to would most likely want to use the same opioid.
What happened during the consult two days after my ER visit? If you guessed that the surgeon preferred another kind of opioid then you guessed right! During the consultation I was adamant about the fact that I wouldn’t use more than a 2-week supply due to extreme drowsiness yet another 30-day supply of opioids was prescribed.
Because I didn’t want to pause my academic studies, I quit taking the opioids 9 days after surgery. I never did the math but it’s clear that as a 20-year old on a college campus I had an excessive amount of opioids leftover.
And all of a sudden, the epidemic made sense to me. How could I obtain so many opioids in such a short amount of time? If I had taken the semester off of school how long would I have taken them? If I didn’t get so drowsy, would I want to quit taking them? And how would my body react to discontinuing if I had finished the full 60-day supply of opioids?
This experience landed me in the middle of the opioid epidemic as a patient and it was frightening. Even with my education, mentors and a great support system, I found myself with SO MANY questions that I couldn’t easily find answers to.
These questions included, where do I dispose of these medications? In practical, actionable terms, what does safe storage of this medication look like? What would happen to me legally if someone had stolen these pills from me and unintentionally harmed themselves? Who can I even tell that I have this many opioid pills?
With time and a LOT of research I was able to answer these questions but can patients without reliable internet access do so? Can patients who don’t have the education I did at the time understand what they’re reading? Can patients who have anxiety around doctors truly retain all they’re told about these medicines during one appointment and have the confidence to admit to anyone else that they don’t remember everything?
I am not sure what the answers to these questions are but I do know from a student and patient perspective, community pharmacies are perfectly equipped to answer these questions proactively.
If the pharmacist would have inquired about my new prescription, they would’ve learned I had a consultation with another doctor within three days; they could’ve proposed a partial fill. They could have provided an infographic with local places to return unused medications. They could’ve asked me to describe how I would store these medications and provided me tips to improve my safe storage. These are all opportunities we can use to improve the care our patients deserve.
Just like slipping on a banana peel, there are a lot of questions patients and their loved ones will have regarding their opioid medication(s). Due to various reasons, they likely won’t know how to ask, what to ask or feel comfortable asking. It’s our jobs to proactively anticipate and communicate issues to ensure our patients are educated, responsible and assured about their opioid prescription(s) and long-term pain management plan.