Opiate dependence is a growing problem in the United States. While the illicit drug heroin has caused massive destruction in many communities, legal prescription opiates are also fueling the crisis that United States Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has called “the health crisis of our generation.” These pills are often legally prescribed to treat pain but they can also result in severe dependence. The have been many different attempts to stop the rising rates of opiate dependence in the United States. A recent initiative that shows promise in helping to reduce addiction is educating medical professionals and encouraging them to change the way they prescribe these opiate medications.
The Role of Prescription Pills in Rates of Opiate Dependence
Prescription opiate medications, such as Vicodin and Oxycontin, are used to treat acute or chronic pain caused by a variety of medical conditions. According to the CDC, the number of prescriptions written for opioid medications quadrupled between 1999 and 2014, despite the fact that there was no change in the amount or level of pain reported by patients in national surveys. Overdoses on these drugs also quadrupled between these years, and deaths as the result of prescription opioids have risen nearly every single year since 2000 (CDC.)
Overprescription and Opiate Dependence
Many experts and citizens argue that the current heroin epidemic in the United States and the prevalence of opiate dependence throughout the country are due to overprescription of these medications. Multiple scientific studies from Dartmouth College, Stanford University, The National Safety Council, and other organizations have confirmed that American doctors routinely prescribe too many opiates, too often, for conditions that don’t necessitate such a powerful drug.
People generally agree that flooding the market with these powerful pills has resulted in never-before-seen rates of overdose and opiate addiction. In fact, Purdue Pharma, the producer of the drug OxyContin, was ordered to pay $600 million in fines for “misbranding” the drug by spreading the false message that new formulations of OxyContin were less addictive and generally safe. Other drug companies have also been forced to pay fines for their marketing practices, which pushed many doctors to prescribe expensive and addictive opiate medications to patients who didn’t need them. In the eyes of many, these companies are partly to blame for the death and destruction caused by opiate dependence.
Reducing Opiate Dependence
One of the major factors in the extreme rate of opiate dependence the country has experienced in the past decade is overprescription of these drugs. Unfortunately, doctors often aren’t trained in identifying or treating addiction. Also, many of them aren’t given enough information by drug companies or pharmaceutical reps about how addictive some medications they prescribe may be for some patients.
In 2012 the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse released a report that said that medical schools only include a few hours of classes about addiction during the entire four-year program at most medical schools, meaning that a lot of doctors aren’t trained in recognizing, preventing, or treating addiction. The lawsuits against many pharmaceutical companies and their marketing of opiates show that a lot of the time, these producers hide how addictive these drugs can be when recommending them to doctors for treating pain. Most doctors want to effectively treat their patients and give them pain relief, but a lot of the time they are unaware of how destructive opiates can be, or they end up prescribing these drugs more frequently than they need to. The result is extreme levels of opiate dependence in patients. However, new guidelines and programs may change that.
Opiate Prescription Guidelines and Education
Some medical schools, including Stanford University, have started to change their curriculum to designate an entire unit for teaching med students about addiction and how to best prevent it in their patients (Kaiser Health News.) The hope is that new doctors will be more aware of how prescribing practices can lead to opiate dependence and will help their patients with alternative treatments when it’s appropriate, rather than just writing them a prescription for narcotics.
The Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center came up with new guidelines that suggested limits on the number of opiates prescribed for different surgeries and then presented the guidelines to their team of surgeons. When most of the surgeons who attended the education seminar on the topic followed the guidelines, a survey showed that their patients used less of their opiate prescriptions and got fewer refills on the drugs. These results show that limiting the number of pills prescribed and educating medical professionals on best-practice guidelines could reduce opiate dependence in pain patients (Independent.) As the addiction epidemic rages on, more and more organizations are finding that giving doctors clear guidelines and information about opiate dependence may reduce the impact of addiction on the public.
Opiate dependence is an overwhelming condition that can be difficult to beat without proper treatment. If you need evidence-based clinical care for an opiate dependence, call Wellness Retreat Recovery today at 888-738-0692.