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Hospice’s Excessive Use of Prescription Painkillers Creating Potential For Addiction

Hospice is intended to be the final phase of healthcare as someone’s life is drawing to close. The work of hospice is generally regarded as more of a mission than a job and its central goal is to keep patients and their families as comfortable as possible as they move through the end-of-life process. The use of prescription painkillers is almost always vital to hospice achieving its goal. Since hospices only accepts patients that doctors believe will pass within the next 180 days, the concept of addiction to the medications prescribed is the least of anyone’s worries as a patient’s comfort becomes paramount.

Nevertheless, medicine is by no means an exact science and predicting when someone will die is not a guarantee, but an educated guess. Currently, 200,000 patients a year survive hospice and are discharged back to live life. After surviving deadly ailments, many of these individuals are left to fight once again for their lives due to an addiction to painkillers.

It is a rare hospice patient that does not receive opioid painkillers-these prescriptions include the likes of morphine and oxycodone. Often patients are receiving much higher doses of these prescriptions than is normal. Dr. Jane Orient, a professor at the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, says she had to remove her father from a hospice who insisted on giving him morphine he did not need.

Hospice Survivors Often Find Themselves In Drug Rehabilitation

This tendency to overmedicate leaves the nearly quarter of a million people a year who survive hospice in grave danger of a prescription drug addiction. Dr. Walter Ling, director of the substance abuse program at UCLA states, “Everybody who works in the drug rehabilitation field finds these hospice cases.”

For-Profit Hospices Possibly Making Money Off Addiction and Illness

Although in general most hospice care follows its guiding principles to the letter and provides a valuable and necessary service for both patients and families, a Harvard Medical School study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) sheds some light on why we are starting to see hospice survivors turning up in drug rehabs. For-profit hospices have quadrupled Medicare hospice spending in the last ten years while not-for-profit have stayed steady. Twenty percent of for-profit hospice patients survive as compared to twelve percent of not-for-profit hospice patients with an average stay of 30 days longer. Nancy Kane, a professor of health policy at Harvard believes from her analysis of the information that “The long lengths of stay and high rates of live discharges suggest some hospices are signing up people who don’t belong in hospice.”

In other words, for-profit hospice may be manipulating medical uncertainties, such as when someone will die, for profit and possibly creating prescription painkiller addicts in the process. What do you think can be done to help curb painkiller addiction for hospice survivors? Do hospices have a responsibility to survivors who develop a dependence? Your opinions are welcome below.

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