Analysis into the Opiate Crisis and its Causes
In 2015, more than 15,000 people died from overdoses involving prescription opioids, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s up from the 14,000 deaths reported in 2014, according to a Quality Advisory released by the American Hospital Association. And as of 2014, nearly two million Americans, aged 12 or older, either abused or were dependent on prescription opioids. And these numbers only continue to rise each year at alarming rates, to the point that medical and drug professionals are starting to state that we are in the midst of an “opioid crisis” or an “opioid epidemic.” So, how did the rise of opiate addiction reach such alarming rates?
Many are starting to think the medical community plays the most important role.
The Key Players In the Opiate Crisis
Doctors who prescribe opioids to patients play one of the largest roles in who starts taking opioids, and potentially even who becomes addicted to them, because patients would not have access to these drugs otherwise.
One study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that some doctors prescribe opioids much more often than their fellow colleagues for similar acute-pain related cases, sometimes around 20 percent more often. Of those doctors who prescribe opioids more often, around 30 percent of their patients refill their prescriptions for multiple months after their pain medication treatment should have been completed. And for every 48 of the emergency room patients studied, one became a long-term user of opioids.
Some medical professionals are demanding that doctors receive better defined guidelines and training for prescribing opioids, so that patients aren’t receiving excessive doses or a prescription for opioids when it’s not necessary.
Pharmacists are the “gatekeepers” to medications and are responsible for educating patients about the drugs they’re taking, as prescribed to them. Pharmacists should educate patients about the sincere risk of addiction that opioids pose. Knowing that about 10 percent of all patients who take opioids end up forming signs of addiction, they need to emphasize the care that needs to be taken when using such drugs. They should also refuse any prescription that is questionable or suspicious.
Oftentimes pharmacists won’t collaborate with opioid prescribers to identify patients at risk for opioid misuse. However, now it’s easier for them to do so with certain state-led prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs), which collect data about scheduled drug prescribing and dispensing, which can help them identify patients who are “doctor shopping” and abusing drugs.
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Problems with Deciding How to Curtail Opiate Addiction
Unfortunately, there’s still a lot of debate within the medical community itself about how to curtail opiate addiction rates, which has led to slow results and minimal action. Some medical professionals believe the primary goal of pain treatment is to limit opioid prescribing, while others look at disabilities, human suffering, and the expense of chronic pain.
As of late, many restrictions have been placed on specific drugs like Oxycontin and Vicodin. But many patients who experience genuine chronic pain are left without a prescription because of such restrictions.
Paradoxically, the current opioid epidemic is also likely the outcome of efforts put in place to improve patient care. In the mid-1990s, healthcare organizations, such as the Veterans Health Administration and the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, pushed the assessment, documentation, and treatment of pain to the forefront of patient care. The Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems Survey, which is linked to government reimbursement for the care of Medicare and Medicaid patients, includes pain management as a basis of patient satisfaction. In turn, some healthcare providers may feel some pressure to prescribe opioids.
Another reason there is much disagreement about how to prescribe opioids lies in the arbitrary implementation of the pain intensity scale prescribers often use. Clinicians commonly ask an individual to rate his or her pain on a scale from 0 (no pain) to 10 (worst possible pain). This scale is not fool proof, and would require all patients to experience the same thresholds for pain in order to deliver accurate assessments. But all patients have different experiences and histories with pain, as well as pain relief.
The Current Solution
Until medical professionals begin to agree on how and when to prescribe opioids, the addiction epidemic will likely continue. Therefore, it’s imperative to have substantial treatment programs available to those who do become addicted.
If you or a loved one is suffering from a severe opiate addiction, don’t try to detox at home. That could lead to very serious health complications and could increase your risk of relapsing in the future. Consult professionals at a trusted facility where you will be able to detox in a safe, stable, and well-monitored environment, with the right medications and treatment.
After undergoing detox and a potential residential treatment program, you’ll want to consult a dedicated medical professional to consider detox outpatient rehab. You’ll find ways to receive the ongoing support you need to overcome addiction and to transition back into daily life. Outpatient programs consist of education, counseling, and peer group programs.
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