Dr. Drew Blames Physicians for Rise of Opioid Addiction

By Kelly Burch 06/09/17

The outspoken doctor believes stigma keeps physicians from talking to their patients about the risks of substance use disorder.

Dr. Drew Pinsky

Television personality and addiction specialist Dr. Drew says doctors are to blame for the opioid epidemic. 

“The reason we have all these heroin addicts is because physicians over-prescribed opiates and then cut these patients off as opposed to getting them treatment,” he said recently on KABC radio. “And when you cut an opiate addict off, the state they’re in requires they find an alternative source of opiates. The cheapest best route now—fentanyl.”

Dr. Drew Pinsky, a board-certified addictions specialist who became a household name as the host of VH1's Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew, was responding to a New York Times analysis that showed that drug-related deaths rose 19% across the country in 2016. According to that report, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50. 

Speaking as a guest on the radio show McIntyre In The Morning, Dr. Drew pulled no punches about how he believes the nation got into this situation. He blamed doctors who continued prescribing opioids despite knowing the high risk of addiction. 

“The discipline holds that ‘pain is what the patient says it is. Who are we to say when we have pain control? Pain control is achieved when the patient says it’s achieved.’ And that group will only admit to the fact that perhaps 30% of the patients get a little bit of a problem,” he said. Stigma around talking about addiction keeps physicians from talking to their patients about the risks of substance use disorder, he said. 

“They are afraid of the term addiction. They feel as though diagnosing someone with addiction is somehow judging them.”

For doctors who regularly prescribe highly addictive medicines, that is an issue, Dr. Drew added. In reality, he said, “70 to 80% of people develop disabling consequences from their relationship with opiates.”

Although Dr. Drew’s words were pointed, his message may be true. Last week The New England Journal of Medicine published an editorial claiming that the medical community wrongly cited a small 1980s editorial from the journal repeatedly in order to claim that opioids didn’t have highly addictive qualities. 

“The crisis arose in part because physicians were told that the risk of addiction was low when opioids were prescribed for chronic pain. A one-paragraph letter that was published in the Journal in 1980 was widely invoked in support of this claim, even though no evidence was provided by the correspondents,” the editorial reads. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.