The heroin epidemic is steam rolling it's way across the United States. The sad truth is that it's taking a record number of lives with it. Cuyahoga County located in the state of Ohio just had the most heroin overdoses in it's history. Dr. Thomas Gibson is the Medical Examiner for Cuyahoga. He announced that he has seen over 170 overdose deaths from heroin on his books in 2013 and expects that number to reach over 200 by the time he finishes his final report. Cuyahoga has had more opiate overdose deaths than homicides and car accidents.
In 2007, heroin took only 40 lives in Cuyahoga. So what is the reason for the massive 500% increase over the past 6 years? Many experts believe the over-prescribing of narcotic opioid based painkillers is the main factor. Medications that were created to help terminally ill cancer patients stay comfortable during the last days of their lives are now being prescribed for common aches and pains. Many health care professionals are prescribing extended release powerful narcotics to keep their patients out of pain while making their job easier. Opiates are "band-aid" fixes. They block the pain that an individual is dealing with, rather than getting to the root of the issue that is causing pain in the first place. Doctors are prescribing powerful painkillers which reduces the needs for people to seek alternative treatments such as physical therapy. Opiates are life changing medications and do a great job for those who are in serious chronic pain. These life changing medications without a doubt kill pain, but they are also killing people at epidemic rates.
Many advocates for opioid based painkillers are fighting for these medications to stay available. People in chronic pain can finally function like a normal human being now that they have these medications. Most were unable to hold down a job or even concentrate of regular tasks because their pain was too much to handle. Now that these medications are being blamed for the heroin overdose spike, many of these patients are worried they may lose their medications. Many doctors do not want to prescribe the medications because of the liability that goes along with it. They feel like they have the DEA watching their every move and to be honest, I think this is a very good thing.
Doctors should not be looking to give a pill to a patient and close their chart. Strong narcotic painkillers should be the last resort for a patient. Physical therapy, diet change, exercise and non-narcotic painkillers should be used first. If nothing else works the narcotic painkillers can be used. Then when they are prescribed, they should be at the lowest dose possible. I have talked to more people than I can count about how their doctor over-prescribed them Oxycodone (a common opiate painkiller). Many do not start with low dose pills such as 5mg or 10 mg. Doctors are starting patients at 15mg, 20mg and even 30mg immediate release Oxycodone pills. After a few weeks of taking these dosages, the patient is physically and mentally dependent on the medication. The doctor knows that the patient will be back for more, and can consider them a patient for life. Remember, painkillers do not fix pain. They just numb the pain and do not fix the underlying cause.
Cuyahoga has seen it's fair share of tragedy this year do to opiate abuse. The sad thing about this is that it's becoming far too common across the US. This epidemic is going to get a lot worse before it gets better. Experts are expecting the numbers to keep climbing and that means more overdoses per year. The public needs to give this topic more attention and our society needs to know what is going on and ways to combat the abuse.