According to the medical examiner’s report, the autopsy found that the pop star Prince died of an overdose of the opioid fentanyl. As we find ourselves amidst an opioid overdose epidemic, we need to question our approach to pain treatment.
For many years, we were taught to see pain as the 5th vital sign, (with blood pressure, temperature, pulse and respiration being the other four). I can’t help but wonder if we overdid it. No one should live with pain, but pain is perceived differently by everyone. While some people have a high pain tolerance and can get by with non-pharmacological interventions, others need medical interventions. Do we assess pain tolerance? Commonly, we ask the patient to assess the pain themselves by pointing to a face on a wall chart that matches how they feel. So if we are not assessing pain tolerance how do we prescribe a pain regimen? How do we determine what tapering schedule is adequate? Do we have a tapering protocol based on specific pain states?
The DEA and CDC among many organizations are implementing programs to help combat the opioid overdose epidemic by calling in many healthcare professionals. What about psychologist and the use of mental health to assist in the treatment of pain? Can this be a piece of the puzzle?
According to the DEA there were 2000 opioid deaths since the pop stars death. Regardless of how many interventions we implement, we can all agree that urgency is paramount.