Painkiller Overdose is an Epidemic
As far back as 2012, the Center for Disease Control released an incredibly alarming statistic. There are an average of 27,000 unintentional overdose deaths each year in America. That breaks down to someone accidentally dying every nineteen minutes.
Maybe you’ve heard this figure before. It’s been floating around the medical world for a few years now. Take a minute, though, and really think about it. Every nineteen minutes someone dies due to prescription painkillers.
That’s saddening to say the least. It also raises a number of questions about what’s being done to address the rampant overmedication, both legitimate and non, of America.
I have some thoughts on that matter. Before we get to a solution, though, we have to fully understand the problem. Let’s examine some of the facts and statistics the CDC has gather regarding painkiller abuse in the United States.
Staggering Death Statistics
What exactly has the Center for Disease Control found out about America’s opioid consumption?
- Prescription painkillers account for more deaths than heroin and cocaine combined. This has been the case since 2003.
- For every person who dies as a result of opioid overdose, nine people are admitted to addiction treatment centers, thirty-five people are admitted to emergency rooms, and 461 people report non-medically using prescription opioids.
- Changing the above information into numbers – for every person who overdoses on pain pills, 243,000 end up in rehab, 945,000 end up in the ER, and 12,447,000 misuse prescription painkillers.
- Death rates are highest among men who’re twenty to sixty-four years old, Caucasian, economically disadvantaged, and live in rural areas.
- The two groups with the highest risk for overdose are the five million Americans who use opioids non-medically and the nine million Americans who are on long-term, doctor recommended opioid protocols.
- Approximately 80% of patients prescribed painkillers are prescribed low doses (under 100mg of a morphine equivalent dose per day). These patients make up around 20% of all prescription drug overdoses.
- Approximately 10% of patients prescribed painkillers are prescribed high doses (over 100mg of a morphine equivalent dose per day). These patients make up around 40% of painkiller overdoses.
- The remaining 10% of patients prescribed painkillers are prescribed large daily doses, engage in doctor shopping, and make up, approximately, another 40% of overdose victims.
- 76% of those who use prescription opioids non-medically obtained pills from someone other than a doctor. A mere 20% were prescribed pills.
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Hope for Painkiller Overdose
The above facts and statistics don’t paint a rosy picture. Rather, they show a country with a large appetite for the incredibly addictive prescription drugs known as opioids. So, what’s being done, or what should be done, to combat this overwhelming epidemic?
As of February 2016, President Obama has earmarked over $100 million new federal dollars to the Department of Health and Human Services. This money is being split between three main programs: prescription drug monitoring programs, improving state and federal treatment options, and an initiative to make the “anti-overdose” drug Narcan more available to first responders.
Additionally, the Obama administration has set aside $27.6 billion dollars to support the prevention and treatment of substance use disorders.
So, there’s money being allocated on a federal level to reduce prescription painkiller overdose rates. What about on a local level, though? It’s here that community organizations and grassroots groups have the largest impact.
Take Delray Beach, FL, for example. It’s a town that’s commonly called “the recovery capital of America” and has been on the front lines of the prescription pill epidemic from its start.
There are many rehabs, both private and state funded, in Delray Beach. There are an equally large number of community groups dedicated to providing support to recovering addicts. While Delray’s treatment centers do an amazing job of helping those struggling with substance abuse, it’s the community organizations that really shine.
Take, for example, the numerous twelve-step fellowship and meetings in Delray. These are a completely free service for anyone with drug or alcohol issues. Not only do they offer a safe haven for addicts during meetings, but individual members are quick to reach out and help.
In addition to substance abuse treatment and community involvement, doctors should drastically cut their opioid prescription rates. Think about it – if prescription pain pills are prescribed less frequently, they’ll be less available for individuals to abuse.
This is only going to happen once doctors begin to examine alternative strategies for treating chronic pain. It’s not like there’s a shortage of promising non-pharmaceutical routes. Things like physical therapy, acupuncture, talk therapy, and yoga have all been shown to reduce pain in patients.
A combination of increased federal funding, ever increasing community involvement, and decreased opioid prescription offers a real glimmer of hope in an otherwise dark situation. And hope, my friends, is exactly what the doctor ordered.