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Overprescription of Opioid Medications: Fueling the Opioid Epidemic and Harming Communities

As time goes on, the opioid epidemic is only getting worse. Opioids were involved in 47,600 overdose deaths in 2017, meaning opioids were responsible for 67.8% of all fatal overdoses last year. More terrifying is the idea that these numbers are expected to increase in the upcoming years. The opioid epidemic is stealing the lives of our youth, devastating families, and tearing communities apart. This has to be addressed, not only for the sake of the many lives opioids continue to claim, but for the sake of the families and communities that are being affected due to the vicious, deadly disease of addiction.

Why Opioids?

When a person has chronic pain, it is cheaper for a healthcare provider to send them off to the pharmacy with a prescription for oxycodone that is covered by private insurance than it is to provide the individual with long term physical therapy. It is easier to send that individual to the pharmacy once a month than to ask them to see a physical therapist once a week for months on end in order to receive proper care.

In this day in age, we want things quick. We want a solution now. So why wait for physical therapy to lessen pain when you can take a pill and feel better in an hour?

More importantly, why swallow a pill and wait an hour when you can crush it, snort it, and feel better in 10 minutes? If we’re being really blunt, why wait 10 minutes when you can buy a pack of fresh needles at the pharmacy and inject these drugs to get the desired effects instantaneously? As a former addict, I know which method of administration I would choose.

Big Pharma: America’s Favorite Drug Dealer

In 2017, there were nearly 58 opioid prescriptions written for every 100 Americans. This is an astounding number of prescriptions, but what is even more impressive is the fact that a study suggests that 1 in every 12 doctors accepted payments from opioid manufacturers from 2013 to 2015. This could be an attributing factor as to why 1 in every 5 patients who enter the ER leave with a prescription to an opioid-based medication, suggesting that doctors may, in fact, be over-prescribing opioid medications.

Physical dependence on opioids can occur in just five consecutive days of taking opioids, yet the average length of time for prescriptions given provide individuals with enough pills for 18 days. At the rate of over prescribing we are seeing in the U.S., this puts many people at risk for developing a dependence on opioids where they may experience withdrawal symptoms when their prescription runs out. Opioid withdrawals can be so unruly that it can drive individuals to purchase stronger, illicit substances for extended periods of time, resulting in a physical dependence and mental addiction to opioids.

Hundreds of Hurting Communities

While physicians and pharmaceutical industries are profiting from overprescribing medications, the opioid epidemic is placing a burden on the economy of an estimated $78.5 billion each year and nearly 25% of this is funded by state and local governments. These funds must cover law enforcement regulation of illicit substances, rehabilitation services, emergency services, and the funds needed to care for a patient who has survived an overdose. Perhaps the most saddening cost that the opioid epidemic is responsible for is that of treating the babies who are born to this disease through no fault of their own.

In addition to an economic standpoint, on any given day in the U.S., 91 people die from an opioid overdose and 3,900 people will begin to abuse prescription opioids. These numbers are nothing short of devastating.

At any point in time, a baby is born physically addicted to opioids straight out of the womb, and doctors are hectically rushing to keep him alive. An infant is suffering in a family of drug-addicted parents who would rather pay for their next fix than feed their child. A six-year-old boy is being thrown into his fifth foster home this year because his parents are stuck in the grips of addiction. A bright college student is trying oxycodone for the first time, not knowing that it is going to kill her after just one dose. A mother will lay awake in bed tonight wondering if she will ever see her daughter alive again. A paramedic is hoping that this third dose of narcan will restore the breathing of a homeless man with track marks covering his arms, as he responds to the 7th overdose call of the day.

People are dying and communities are hurting. The impacts of the opioid epidemic are endless.

Fighting Back

Emotionally and economically, we cannot afford to sit back and watch our citizens die to this disease any longer.

As a community, we have to talk about the dangers and risks in taking prescription opioids. We must educate the people about how quickly a dependence on opioids can occur and how difficult it is to overcome withdrawals.

In April 2018,  the National Institute of Health launched an initiative called Helping to End Addiction Long-term (HEAL) which will help to improve opioid addiction treatment as well as enhance treatments for pain management without the use of opioid-based medications.

In addition to research and education around opioid addiction, new legislation needs to be implemented and more importantly, these laws must be enforced. These programs include Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs), pain clinic regulations to prevent physicians from prescribing pain medication solely for financial gain, and education and training on alternate methods of pain management.

Though there is no end all, cure-all solution to the opioid epidemic, through citizen efforts as well as congressional legislation, the effects of the opioid epidemic can be diminished in time. Communities can begin to heal. Patients can start to receive the care they need.

If one less person dies today from an opioid overdose, our job has only just begun.



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