How this Maine doctor reversed course after realizing his prescriptions hooked people on opioids

Peter was a patient of mine to whom I prescribed opioids intermittently for several years. I remember to this day how shocked I was to finally discover that he was not only pathologically hooked on opioids, but was so hooked he was stealing money to buy them on the street. Even more shocking to me; a patient I liked and respected, an upstanding member of the community, had been deceiving me. …

I was intent on reducing the painful suffering of my patients, and too unaware of the suffering that might develop if my pills were used inappropriately. I failed to see that our efforts in healthcare to be more effective treating pain – efforts promoted on a national level by healthcare regulators and pain experts – was ‘opioid-dependent’ itself, and would come back to haunt us all.

Those are words written by an incredible man who practices primary care here in Maine. Dr. Erik Steele writes with such honesty about a topic that is often difficult for physicians to discuss publicly. He should be thanked for saying what many are thinking, for taking ownership of a problem and working hard to address it.

As he writes:

Having helped make this mess, I now need to help fix it, by starting a different small stream. As I go back into family practice in Maine, I will take my 8 hour course and do other work to be able to prescribe suboxone therapy – one part of Medically Assisted Therapy (MAT) for OUD, and provide treatment for as many as I and my practice can capably manage. I will begin screening for OUD among my patients, and treating or referring those who need help. I will dramatically change my approach to the treatment of pain, avoiding use of opioids wherever possible, weaning patients off opioids wherever I can, and partnering with other healthcare providers and state government in meticulous management of opioid prescribing. That all amounts to a big, challenging pain in my practice, but I don’t think any of us who helped get Maine and its people into this opioid mess can, in good conscience, do anything less.

For our readers, please take a few moments and read Dr. Steele’s blog post with Maine Quality Counts. You’ll be glad you did. It gave me hope that those who can are working hard to help slow down the clock — the human clock that is stealing one life a day here in Maine.

Click here to read the entire piece from Dr. Steele.

Maine Quality Counts is a member driven nonprofit organization that engages providers, patients and other healthcare stakeholders to transform health and healthcare in Maine and beyond. For more information, visit