The health of our population has become a business. Pharmaceutical companies are bringing in the most money while creating the most illness, pain, and suffering.
Heroin, cocaine, alcohol, methamphetamine, and other “street drugs” are abused daily, but the biggest problem in the United States is the endless abuse of prescription drugs, mainly opiates like Vicodin, OxyContin, and Percocet, the mimic the painkilling effects of heroin.
Doctors everywhere are writing prescriptions for drugs that are highly addictive and nearly impossible to treat. Opiate painkillers were created to treat acute pain following an accident or surgery. Short-term use managed pain. There was little risk of addiction because the individual was on an opiate while receiving medical attention. Instead of a month or two of a prescription narcotic, patients were sent home with five to ten pills.
After that, the person no longer needed such a strong painkiller. Somewhere along the way, patients started asking for more opiates, and doctors were okay with prescribing them more often and for longer periods of time. What would make a physician do something when he or she does not find it medically necessary?
Doctors may receive monetary rewards for prescribing certain drugs to their patients. In a survey conducted in 1992, almost 90% of physicians replied that prescribing opiates or opioids for pain is not “lawful and generally acceptable medical practice.” What changed that mentality? It seems we now have a culture of over-prescribing in an effort to better manage client pain. If an opiate makes me feel better, I will continue to tell my doctor that I am in pain. Without any real tool to measure what someone is feeling, insteading of challenging my claim of ongoing pain, my doctor keeps refilling my Vicodin prescription.
This is a major problem. Vicodin and OxyContin are the two most abused prescription drugs. More people are using Vicodin and OxyContin more than cocaine and heroin combined. Since tolerance for prescription painkillers develops so quickly, each addict needs more and more to get the same pain relief, so now the leading cause of drug overdose is pharmaceutically-manufactured painkillers.
The rate of opiate use is so high that in certain parts of the country, up to 10% of all babies born start life addicted to prescription pills.
Finding a solution
What can be done to stop the widespread abuse of painkillers?
One part of the solution, that has already begun, is efforts to educated doctors on the signs and symptoms of addiction. Another part is statewide, and eventually national, databases that track all opiate prescriptions written. If John Smith comes to Dr. Jones, describes chronic pain that requires Vicodin, Dr. Jones must look up John Smith before writing a prescription. If this John Smith has an ongoing Vicodin prescription with another physician, Dr. Jones knows not to write another one.
The hardest part of the problem though is how to prevent these prescription drugs from finding their way onto the streets? Once people are addicted, they will find a way to get ahold of Vicodin, Percocet, or OxyContin. How do we treat the millions of people currently addicted to prescription opiates, and prevent millions more from every trying them?
Kate Green is a passionate quality improvement manager that strives to better the lives of people struggling with drug and alcohol abuse. Learn more about the work that she does for Balboa Horizons Treatment Services at their site.