“In medical school, I had exactly one medical lecture on pain, and I will never forget it,” CDC Director Thomas J. Frieden said at a gathering yesterday of the Massachusetts Medical Society. “The lecturer said if you give an opiate to a patient for pain they will not get addicted. It’s completely wrong."
“But we have a generation of physicians who grew up learning that, and the result of that is a generation of Americans who are addicted to opiates,” he said. Frieden said the drugs have a place in medicine, but doctors have miscalculated their risks versus the benefits.
“By all means, for palliation of someone with cancer, we need to treat their pain,” Frieden said. “But for common back pain, headache, you’d be hard-pressed to prove that the benefits of prescription opiates outweigh the risks of what are clearly dangerous drugs. “A few doses result in addiction. A few doses too many result in respiratory suppression and death.”
In total there have been more than 145,000 opiate deaths nationally over the last decade. Research has shown that people who use prescription opiates like oxycodone or hydrocodone move onto heroin because it is cheaper and easier to acquire.
“It is easier to turn off the tap than try to clean up what is out there,” he said. “Fundamentally, we have to change the way we prescribe.”
The opiate epidemic has affected other areas in communities. There have been a major rise in drug-exposed babies as well as blood borne outbreaks of hepatitis and HIV from addicts sharing needles. Child welfare officials investigated more than 1,700 reports of drug-exposed newborns over the final 10 months of 2014 in Massachusetts alone.
There are so many reasons for the epidemic of prescription painkillers. Many are hard to control, but the way doctor's prescribe them is fully controllable. There needs to be a greater focus on pain and prescribing pain in medical school. Doctors need to fully understand the dangers of the medication they are prescribing and look at the facts and statistics behind these medications. If doctors change their practices of prescribing, it will lesson the amount of opiates that are available for abuse.