The United States is grappling with a deadly opioid epidemic, causing a surge in the number of overdoses and associated fatalities. Opioid overdoses are happening not only along the borders and crime-ridden alleyways but also in every nook and cranny of concrete high-rises and bustling metropolises.
According to a recent report published by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS), the opioid epidemic is acquiring devastating proportions across the nation. The 65 percent rate of increase in the use of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) does not correspond to the 493 percent surge in opioid addiction diagnoses during 2010-2016. Compared to 1.4 incidences of opioid addiction among every 1,000 Blue Cross Blue Shield members in 2010, experts reported a spike of 8.3 incidences for every 1,000 members in 2016.
“Opioid use disorder is a complex issue, and there is no single approach to solving it,” said Dr. Trent Haywood, senior vice-president and chief medical officer for the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA). In the wake of the surge in opioid addictions, experts believe MAT could help individuals manage their addiction. MAT, which includes the practice of prescribing medication like buprenorphine or methadone, along with behavioral therapy, is considered the gold standard of treatment. However, not everyone battling opioid addiction has access to effective treatment or professional help. According to a 2016 Surgeon General’s report, only one in 10 Americans has access to professional treatment to manage their addiction. Besides, another 40 percent people dependent on opioids also grapple with a mental health disorder that worsens the situation.
But what is posing to be an even more worrisome trend is that 20 percent children are now pharmaceutical drug users. Abuse of prescription medicines to relieve pain is the underlying cause of the epidemic. Studies show that painkillers have claimed more lives than heroin and cocaine combined. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that the act of doctors writing millions of prescriptions for opioid painkillers has fueled the scourge.
One of the reasons why most Americans are unaware of the dangers of prescription drugs is an inherent misapprehension about the drug testing and approval procedures. Many are led into a false sense of belief that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a rigorous testing and evaluation mechanism in place. This is actually far from the truth, the current system shrugs the entire onus of clinical trials and safety testing of a new drug on the pharmaceutical company which develops the drug. It is unfortunate that many individuals consider prescription drugs to be safe and disregard the directions given by the doctor. But the truth is that any form of misuse or overdose is highly dangerous. The CDC, as well as other law enforcement agencies, have issued mandatory guidelines to control overprescription of painkillers by doctors. As per the new set of initiatives, doctors or medical practitioners must prescribe opioids only if alternative medication or behavioral therapies fail to produce the alleviating effect.
Exploring pain management options beyond opioids
Quoting Richard A. Friedman, M.D., professor of Clinical Psychiatry at the Weill Cornell Medical College, The New York Times said, “What is really needed is a sea change within the medical profession itself. We should be educating and training our medical students and residents about the risks and limited benefits of opioids in treating pain. It is physicians who, in large part, unleashed the current opioid epidemic with their promiscuous use of these drugs; we have a large responsibility to end it.”
For an effective long-term patient care, experts in the medical community believe that a customized and multi-disciplinary approach should be the way ahead. Moreover, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), pain management via the long-term use of opioids lacks sufficient data to support their use, thereby, throwing up new possibilities of other alternative treatment options like physical therapy and complementary medicine. Last year, in its meeting, the American Medical Association devised policies to promote non-opioids and non-pharmacologic treatments for pain.
Doctors, healthcare professionals, their patients, together with pharmacists play a significant role in recognizing and thwarting any unapproved use of prescription medications. Efforts must be made to incorporate more evidence-based screening tools as part of any consultation process, along with highlighting other alternative forms of treatment, if required. The need of the hour is to provide access to addiction help, which includes useful information on treatment for addiction and non-narcotic methods to manage pain, build healthier relationships and self-esteem. Importantly, pharmacists must keep a careful watch to identify counterfeit prescriptions or any alterations which could lead to abuse or overdose.
Message from Sovereign Health
It’s important for the patient to understand the potential risks associated with the long-term use of prescription drugs. Educating patients about prescription drug abuse is an important step toward preventing big health issues in the future. Sadly, most individuals fall prey to addiction more quickly than they might ever realize.
The only way to break free from the clutches of deadly substances is to undergo a specialized treatment for addiction at a professional drug addiction rehab center to combat the effects of the drug. Our customized addiction recovery programs at Sovereign Health of San Clemente are designed for a holistic treatment. If you or your loved one is battling an addiction to any drug, call our 24/7 helpline number (866) 819-0427 or chat online to know about the most effective rehab programs at centers.