Why Is It Easier to Get An Opioid Than An Antibiotic?

Riddle me this – how come it’s easier to get a prescription for Vicodin than one for antibiotics? 

I’m serious. During this winter of the flu and other assorted maladies I heard people talking about trying to score a “Zpack (Zithromax) with such a sense of devout urgency that they sounded like an addict trying to hustle another fix. One friend who just knew, without a doubt, that she had strep recently shared her harrowing tale of doctor shopping for a Zpack. 

At first she played by the rules and went straight to her primary care doctor for an antibiotic prescription, but she was shut down. The doctor uttered that dreaded sentence we’ve all been told before – “It’s a viral infection and antibiotics won’t help.” Apparently, she flunked the rapid strep test. 

Undeterred and 100 percent convinced that the doctor was incorrect because in her words, “he didn’t do a throat culture” she went to her allergist and pretending she had a sinus infection asked if perhaps some antibiotics would do the trick. The allergist also said “no can do.” 

Finally, she was reduced to going to an “sketchy” Urgent Care that she said “made the DMV look like the Four Seasons.” The place also wouldn’t take her insurance and demanded payment up front before she was even given a clip board to fill out her health history. It was worth it though because $135 in cash later she finally secured the coveted Zpack.

Now, let’s contrast that travail with my most recent doctor foray. Two weeks ago, due to overestimating my brute strength, I jacked my left hip. It was so bad wearing underwear became optional. The act of lifting my foot to enough to get underwear on fell into the category of “never going to happen.” Due to the fact that my mobility was being severely hindered I decided to go to the doctor.  

When I got to the appointment I didn’t even have to disrobe and I had a chunky sweater on. All I did was indicate where the pain was and do some different body moves followed by yes, no, ouch and OUCH! The visit didn’t take long and before a medical professional could say, “you yanked some muscles around your hips and back” I was about to be given a pain prescription. I swiftly turned it down because I’m skeptical of extra strength Tylenol.

But as I slowly shuffled out of the doctor’s office I thought about how easy that was to get some hard-core opioid pain medication in a five-minute or less doctor’s appointment. It also got me back on my wisdom teeth rant. 

When my son got his wisdom teeth out he got a prescription for Vicodin. I asked the nurse why the RX was for so many pills. Wouldn’t you just do, say four, and if a kid had more pain than that a parent should call the oral surgeon’s office because there could be an infection? Why, just as a general rule, prescribe more than two dozen pills of a hard-core opiate to a 16-year-old? 

It turns out I was on to something because research from the Centers for Disease Control has shown that more half of the opioids prescribed for wisdom teeth removal go unused by the patient and I’ll let you conjecture what happens to a lot of those unused pills.

I have no problem with doctors following strict protocol for who does and does not warrant an antibiotic prescription because antibiotic resistant infections sound Zombie Apocalypse adjacent. What I don’t understand is why the medical community doesn’t use the same tenacity when it comes to prescribing opioids. It shouldn’t be harder to get Amoxicillin than OxyContin.