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Winning the War on Opiate Abuse

As evidenced by the skyrocketing hospitalization rates, and the climbing death tolls- the battle against opiate abuse has transformed into an all-out war. People from all over the nation, and in all socioeconomic situations are falling victim to the double edged sword of addiction. That is to say that the war against opiate abuse, like all wars, does not affect any singular geographical group or social class. Rather, it permeates all areas of the nation and claims lives across all rungs on the social ladder. Opiate addiction is running rampant, and containing it will require an understanding of the history behind opiate abuse, as well as strategic planning.

As aforementioned, the war on opiate abuse cannot be won if we do not make an effort to understand its history. Knowing how a relatively small problem explodes into a national epidemic will help us combat the root of the issue. Our story starts about a decade ago. Around this time, government agencies created an initiative that supported pain becoming what is known as "the fifth vital sign." This meant that physicians were encouraged to monitor a patient's level of pain in the same way that they monitored respiration, blood pressure, body temperature, and heart rate. Patients were often given surveys that inquired about whether or not the doctor had done everything within his power to reduce pain. These surveys were issued to ensure that the goals of the "fifth vital" initiative were being met. Therefore, it became imperative to combat pain as quickly and as completely as possible. Naturally, physicians began prescribing higher and more potent doses of opiates. Patients developed unrealistic ideas about pain management because of this. They expected- even demanded- to experience no pain at all. Physicians were then pressured into increasing doses once again, which, of course leads to even higher comfort expectations. Thus, the cycle of prescription abuse was born. 

While over-prescription is certainly a major factor in the opiate abuse cycle, it is neither productive nor necessary to attack physicians. Medical professionals are, after all, just trying to perform their duties in a satisfactory way. However, it may be time to put another set of "troops" on the front lines on the war on opiate abuse. Pain specialists may be the people for the job. 

Pain specialists are a subgroup of anesthesiologists. Their duty is to assess patients and determine the most appropriate way to manage pain. Rather than painting all patients with the same brush, pain specialists analyze each person as a unique individual. They identify the risk factors that lead to prescription opiate abuse, and adjust the medication given to each patient accordingly. 

By assessing each patient for risk, pain specialists stop addiction before it begins. Risk assessment is not the only duty of a pain specialist, though. Education is also a major responsibility of these medical professionals. They educate their patients on the dangers of opiate abuse. They also ensure that each patient is aware of proper medication disposal, so that they do not unintentionally fuel the addiction of other opiate users. 

It is becoming increasingly obvious that if we hope to win the war on opiate abuse, we must change our fighting strategy. Pain specialists are very equipped to develop and employ this new strategy.


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