United States Surgeon General Vivek Murthy joined Illinois Senator Dick Durbin for a panel discussion today about America’s prescription drug crisis. The event was part of Dr. Murthy’s “Turn the Tide Rx” tour of health care facilities and academic institutions to talk about how the medical community can work with the government to stem the rising tide of opioid addiction.
Dean Kenneth Polonsky introduced Murthy and Durbin, who were joined in the discussion by Audrey Tanksley, MD, assistant professor of medicine, David Dickerson, MD, assistant professor of anesthesia & critical care and Director of the UChicago Medicine Pain Clinic, and one of Dickerson’s patients.
Durbin, who has championed legislation in the Senate to help curb opioid abuse, noted the sheer scale of the problem. He said that about 14 billion opioid pills were manufactured in the United States in 2014, and in 2012, health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for the drugs, enough for one bottle for every American adult.
“It’s a situation that defies logic,” he said, acknowledging the difficult position physicians are in as they treat patients in pain. “You have to bring subjectivity to every patient and meet your professional responsibilities to treat them, but not overdo it.”
Murthy talked about the special role teaching institutions like the University of Chicago can play in training future doctors to manage prescription painkiller use in patients, and recognize underlying substance abuse addictions that can make standard medical care more difficult.
“I believe that clinicians have a powerful role … because of the respect they hold in society,” he said. “I want to say in 20 years that I can look back at a time when people were suffering, and that it was our profession that stepped up.”