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The Healthcare’s Connection To The Opiate Epidemic

Doctors are unexpectedly fueling an addiction crisis in the country. With nearly 50,000 Americans having fatally overdosed in 2014, this is an epidemic driven, not by illegal drug deals in dark alleys but the considerable increase in the use of prescription opioid painkillers. With nearly 1.9 million people around the United States abusing legal prescription opioid medications today, this is a disaster in the making, a crisis that deserves the immediate interest of all relevant parties.

There was a 16% increase in the number of people that fatally overdosed on prescription painkillers in 2014. With drug overdoses leading to more deaths in any given year than car crashes or even gun violence, the root of this problem can be traced back to the tendency by many a doctor to recommend the use of addictive opioids like Percocet and Vicodin to treat the simplest aches and pains.

The fact that an incredible 259 million opioid prescriptions were written in 2013 alone reveals the incisive role physicians have played in bringing this present health crisis into existence.

 Why Opioids?

Opium poppies have been bringing relief to those patients afflicted by pain the world over for several generations now. Before the United States Congress banned heroin in the 1920s because of its addictive nature, the drug was a popular remedy for menstrual pain. Opioids are not new to the medical field. Physicians have been using their properties to fight pain for a very long time, and the fact that they are so effective doesn’t help matters.

With opioid medications like Oxycodone and Hydrocodone first receiving approval for use in the medical arena in the last century but none the less attracting suspicion for their addictive nature, essentially restricted for use by everyone except terminally ill patients for whom addiction posed little threat, the scientific community continues to debate about the rationale of using opioids to manage pain, this despite the addictive dangers they pose.

It is worth pointing out that opioids didn’t truly begin to proliferate throughout the medical arena, used to treat milder conditions like back pain, until the 1990s. A number of parties have continued to challenge the legality of using opioids in medicine.

The Danger’s of Opioids

The destructive nature of Opioids lies in the powerful euphoric sense they create in users, leaving many an individual feeling numb and largely carefree. It doesn’t take long for the body to build up a tolerance for the drug, forcing individuals to seek larger doses in order to achieve this same euphoric sense. It is here that the cycle of addiction begins. It is not unheard of for opioids to slow the respiratory system down so drastically that the person in question stops breathing. Along with the tendency by some patients to mix opioids with other substances, the risks of overdose are quite high. Anti-anxiety drugs like valium alone contributed to 31% of all prescription painkiller-related deaths in 2011.

The Solution

Authorities have made an effort to crack down on clinics that mass-prescribe painkillers, setting up databases that keep track of individuals who receive prescriptions for addictive painkillers to help physicians identify patients with a habit of “doctor shopping”.

While doctors have been encouraged to cut back on prescribing opioids, there are over one hundred million Americans suffering from chronic pain and for whom opioids provide essential relief. Separating those who need opioid medications to function from individuals that simply cannot contend with the addictive nature of painkillers is proving to be quite the difficult task. There is no guaranteed method for deciding who should or shouldn’t receive an opioid prescription. For most doctors, they can only do what they think is right and hope for the best. Of course, a crack down on pill mills and an increase in the regulation of prescription painkillers hasn’t stopped people from shopping for opioids on the black market.


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