Though abuse of opium products has been going on for eons, the abuse of legal, prescribed drugs has only grown into an epidemic of sorts following fairly recent events: the introduction of OxyContin and the recommendation by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations that physicians routinely assess pain and treat it accordingly.
The Introduction of OxyContin
In 1996, there was a landmark event in the history of opioids and their abuse: the introduction of OxyContin. OxyContin is a popular drug for pain relief, especially after surgery. The drug was originally designed as an extended release formula- meaning that a patient could just pop one or two pills that would keep pain at bay for a whole day. That meant that one did not have to worry about popping pain pills every four hours as is the case with immediate release formula pain pills.
But it also meant that each OxyContin tablet packs copious amounts of oxycodone – far more than the amount in a typical immediate release tablet. Unfortunately, that fact opened the drug to abuse. And soon after the launch of OxyContin and its release to the market, crafty opioid abusers learned that they could circumvent the extended-release formulation of the drug by crushing it. And, thus, oxycodone, the pure drug, would be available to the abusers in large quantities. Moreover, it would be free of repulsive additives such as acetaminophen.
It is noteworthy that the Food and Drug Administration and Purdue, the company that has a patent for the drug, did not envisage the possibility of abusers circumventing the extended-release formulation of the drug. But the company continued to tout the drug as having a “low abuse potential”, emphasizing that those suffering pain were only supposed to take a pill or two a day.
OxyContin represented 30 percent of the painkiller market in 2012. That inadvertently meant that the number of opioid abusers had also increased, significantly. To make matters worse, people would snort or inject the drug intravenously after crushing it. Of course, that exposed them to some health risks. For example, snorting can harm or destroy naval passages while IV injection can expose one to some diseases.
Recommendation That Physicians Detect and Treat Pain
When the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations recommended that doctors regularly check and prescribe medications for patients who are suffering from chronic pain, they had the best intentions. It had been discovered that millions of Americans endure acute or chronic pain. But upon publication of the report that recommended opioids for pain management, they unwittingly opened a Pandora box of unforeseen problems. The report resulted in a massive and often inappropriate increase in the use of opioids to manage pain. Some opioids were then diverted from the normal legal supply chain through sleaze to the street where they were sold to abusers for illicit use. And not long after, what was intended only for medical purposes was now being used recreationally. The report together with the introduction of OxyContin is responsible for the epidemic of opioid abuse.
Abusing opioids seem easy, safe, and cheap. Moreover, it is comparably socially acceptable than, say, abusing heroin. And it can be easily obtained from drug dealers. That succinctly explains the proliferation in the numbers of people who abuse the opioids.
But the manufacture of opioid medications is not going to stop, at least not any time soon, owing to the good work they do to alleviate pain. Thankfully, some measures are being contemplated to curb the abuse of the drug.