The over-prescribing of opiate painkillers has been the main culprit behind the opiate abuse epidemic. Three out of four people who are addicted to heroin and other opiates started with a prescription for an opiate painkiller. Opiate overdoses have surpassed car accidents as the number one cause of accidental deaths in the United States, as well as New Jersey. Approximately 25,000 people die from opiate overdoses annually. 17,000 of the deaths are the result of prescription painkillers like Percocet or Vicodin and 8,000 deaths are caused by heroin.
The numbers of prescriptions for painkillers over the last 20 years has increased significantly. In fact, it has risen threefold. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 259 million prescriptions in 2012 and one in four teens reported abusing prescription drugs.
"The bottom line is, we're not seeing consistent, effective, appropriate prescribing of painkillers across the nation, and this is a problem because of the deaths that result," CDC director Tom Frieden said.
Doctors themselves overwhelmingly agree that there is a serious problem with the prescribing of opiates. Even with all of the information about how addictive and dangerous these medications are, they are still being over-prescribed. According to a study conducted by Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, 85 percent of medical doctors say opiate-based painkillers are overused.
The new bill in New Jersey will provide adult patients and parents of younger patients with the critical information needed to make an informed decision about whether to take an opiate-based painkiller. The bill requires doctors to discuss the potential risks of dependency before writing the prescription. Many doctors explain to their patients the dangers, but as of right now it is not required. Many patients do not know the risks and many who become dependent wish they knew the consequences before they started the medication. By then, it is usually too late.
Providing facts to their patients puts them in a position to be in control of their decision. It allows them to weigh their options and decide whether it is the right medication for them. This takes a lot of pressure off of the doctor because the truth is laid out on the table and the patient can decide what goes into their body. It also allows them to try safer treatment options before jumping the gun and going straight for the narcotic. If all other forms fail, the painkillers will always be an option, they just should not be the first choice if possible.
For many patients there are better and less risky alternatives to treat pain. According to Dr. Don Teater, medical advisor for the nonprofit National Safety Council, there is evidence that a combination of ibuprofen and acetaminophen can be more effective than opiate-based painkillers.
"Research has shown that use of opioids after injury or surgery prolongs recovery and increases the chance of chronic opioid use, addiction, and permanent disability," Teater said. "These findings have been supported in the medical literature, but many doctors don't know about it." Hopefully more states will pass laws to educate patients before they start a potentially addictive medication.