Opioid abuse is an all-American epidemic, unique to our country. It is widespread enough to carry the label of a public health outbreak. Abuse covers all ages, races, classes, and genders; however, the most typical victim is a non-Hispanic Caucasian male in his mid-30s. Is there a solution to this opioid abuse crisis?
In emergency rooms, there is no element of surprise in overdose patients rolling in on stretchers. Emergency department visits involving opioids keep rising year after year. Overdose is becoming so widely prevalent that many doctors no longer need to run lab tests to determine which drug caused it. Observations such as dilated pupils mean cocaine, amphetamines, and hallucinogens. Constricted pupils almost always point to an opiate.
Opiate abuse also causes the characteristic “nodding out,” scratching, cold and clammy skin. In the wrong amounts, an overdose is always just a few breaths away – and when that breath begins to sound like a rattle – the person is officially amid an overdose that all too frequently leads to death.
The thought of a loved one – anyone – dying like this is terrifying, and reality is that every 19 minutes, one person in this country dies of an opioid overdose.
The Worsening Opioid Epidemic
The United States is embarrassingly leading the charge in opioid abuse. 75% of the world’s opioid prescription drugs are prescribed here, and it is the number one cause of preventable death. We can’t point our fingers in one direction to blame; however, individual pharmaceutical companies and doctors certainly had a heavy hand in leading these statistics.
The FDA was misled for years about the true nature of opioid dependence so that big pharmaceutical companies could sell more drugs and make more money. Doctors often turn a blind eye to the reality of these drugs, accepting lame scientific data and continuing writing out prescriptions, ignoring the obvious red flags.
Some staggering facts include:
- Every year, doctors write 259 million opioid prescriptions. That’s enough to give every American adult their bottle of pills.
- 91% of people who survive an overdose can get a new prescription, often from the same doctor.
- 80% of heroin users started off using pain management pills.
- As many as 4.2 million Americans have reported using heroin at least once.
- 94% of respondents in a 2014 survey of people in treatment said they chose to use heroin because prescription opioids were more expensive and difficult to obtain.
- Heroin overdose deaths in women have tripled in the past few years.
How to Prevent Opioid Misuse
There is no question; the opioid crisis in America is terrible. However, an opioid crisis solution has to start with prevention. Unfortunately, there’s no single solution and the problem needs multiple approaches to improve.
- Treat individuals already addicted.
- Educated consumers on the dangers of opioids.
- Address how doctors prescribe opioids, and pharmaceutical companies push the doctors to do so.
Treating Opioid Use Disorders
The ability to successfully treat someone with active opioid addiction is not something that anyone programs and promises. However, rehab programs, Narcotics Anonymous, and harm prevention programs are a few of the options available.
Naloxone for Overdose Treatment
Amidst the 2014 Ebola epidemic, the World Health Organization published a study titled, “Community Management of Opioid Overdose,” in which they recommend broader access to Naloxone.
Naloxone is a popular anti-overdose drug. In simple terms, it clears the brain of opioid molecules. This almost immediately “reverses” an overdose.
The WHO study overview reads, “Drug overdose is easily reversed with the opioid antidote Naloxone and with basic life support.” The World Health Organization doesn’t alone think Naloxone could be the “cure” for this overdose epidemic. The Center for Disease Control published a paper in 2012, calling for broader availability of the drug.
Naloxone overdose treatment is a valuable resource in the fight against overdose deaths. Like the World Health Organization says, the combination of essential life support (i.e., CPR) and Naloxone can almost eradicate these deaths.
So why isn’t Naloxone easier to obtain? The answer lies somewhere in the stigma of opioid addiction. As the attitude surrounding addiction shifts from criminal to medical, so do the treatment options. Time reported that between 1996 and 2010, over 10,000 overdose deaths were prevented due to Naloxone overdose treatment. As Naloxone is made available to more and more people, this number will do nothing but grow.
Suboxone for Addiction Treatment
When someone is not actively overdosing but is seeking addiction treatment, Suboxone is the most common choice of drug. The active ingredients in Suboxone are buprenorphine and Naloxone. In this substance, the Naloxone serves the function of preventing relapse because it causes withdrawal symptoms of an opioid if consumed.
Previous to the FDA approval to use Suboxone, Methadone maintenance treatment was used as a harm prevention measure. Methadone and Suboxone receive a great deal of criticism. However, when appropriately used, Suboxone can help one wean off opioids without experiencing the intense cravings and flu-like symptoms of opioid withdrawal.
Additionally, it is widely understood that both of these treatments are most effectively used in conjunction with an opioid addiction treatment program.
Controlling Prescription Abuse
The opioid industry is so enormous that it takes a long time to shift practices and make a positive change. As policymakers start to learn about the epidemic, the facts are more difficult to ignore. In the past few years, President Trump began to implement new regulations.
The addiction industry is already seeing small changes. Pills are coming with safeguards to make them more difficult to abuse, the CDC recommends doctors not to prescribe opioids for chronic pain, monitoring of controlled substances, but much of the responsibility lies with each doctor.
Doctors need to discuss options and the realities of addiction with their patients and be more vigilant in what and how they are prescribing medications. Expectations must be set, and follow up is necessary. Knowing more about a patient’s history is critical – for example, if a patient has a history of drug or alcohol abuse, they should never be prescribed addictive drugs. Opioids always need to be considered an end-of-the-line resource as opposed to primary treatment for pain.
Those of us in recovery are tired of hearing about friends and loved ones overdosing. We are sick of the same familiar and sad story. It isn’t too late to make a change, but doctors need to step up and tighten up their prescription policies for the severity of this to end.
Finding the Opioid Crisis Solution
It is entirely possible that tomorrow, next week, or next year, a new opioid addiction treatment will be discovered. However, it takes years and years of testing before the FDA can approve a widespread treatment use. Currently, the treatments mentioned above encompass part of the solution that we have for the opioid crisis. If you or someone you know is struggling with opioid addiction, contact us today to discuss evidence-based treatment programs to start walking towards recovery.