In what has become a highly damaging trend throughout the United States, opioid use has led to the deaths of over 50,000 people in 2015 alone, and the number of people addicted to these drugs are steadily rising. Now known as the opioid epidemic, it is considered the country’s worst drug crisis in modern time.
There are many drugs that fall under the category of opioids. The category includes legal drugs like morphine, methadone, hydrocodone and oxycodone, and illicit drugs like heroin. More than half of all drug overdose deaths involve opioids in some way, and 91 Americans die every day on average from opioid-related causes. The opioid prescribing has risen dramatically in the past decade, fueling this epidemic and leading to a higher dependency on the drugs in countless individuals.
One of the more obvious tactics in combating this epidemic is by distributing smaller quantities of opioids when individuals need them, and treating those who already suffer from opioid addiction. The rate of deaths has directly correlated with the rise in opioid sales throughout the years, showing health professionals that simply limiting these sales would help in some way. For individuals suffering from fairly minor conditions or injuries, opioid prescriptions should be used sparingly. Only for more serious conditions are these prescriptions indicated, such as cancer, organ failure, or severe trauma.
There are a variety of different forms of pain management that medical professionals could prescribe instead of opioids. though some may find them unconventional, there is actually a strong evidence base for their efficacy. These modalities include massage therapy, acupuncture, aroma therapy, or chiropractic treatment. Just because a patient is in pain does not mean that the first thing a doctor should do is to prescribe them a pill.
If we as a country truly want to end this harmful dependency on prescription medication, there are a number of strategies we can implement in order to do so. The first is learning and following the CDC’s guideline for prescribing opioids. These were created to ensure the safety of patients in need of these drugs, and to limit the distribution numbers to avoid abuse and overdoses. Outside of extreme cases, the CDC recommends holding back from prescribing opioids unless a patient’s pain lasts longer than 3 months.
Drug monitoring programs are also a great way of knowing how many individuals are currently using opioids, and how many they are using. Though they have been in place in all 50 states for some time, not all doctors utilize them effectively due to the challenges involved. However, for those that wish to make a difference and end this epidemic, the steps necessary to do so should be taken despite the investment of time.
Injuries, overdoses, and deaths occur every day from opioid abuse, and the numbers are not decreasing. Seeing as the opioid epidemic has had a direct correlation with the higher sales of opioids, the first step medical professionals can take is caution with prescriptions. Finding the balance between treating legitimate pain and stemming the flow of opioids that contribute to this deadly epidemic is a paramount priority for the American healthcare system.