02 Jun How Can We Stop the Opioid Epidemic?
America has a serious drug problem. It’s not with street drugs coming in from over the border or overseas. It’s prescription pain relievers that Americans pick up at their neighborhood pharmacy every day.
Sadly, 45 Americans die each day as a result of overdosing on pills. That adds up to 16,600 preventable deaths every year. Prescription pain relievers, known as opioids, have become all too common in American households. The preponderance of drugs like Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, morphine and methadone has reached epidemic proportions according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The growing overdose problem is directly related to the ever-increasing number of prescriptions being written for these powerful drugs. The number of opioid prescriptions handed out by doctors has soared over 300 percent in the past decade. Hydrocodone-based drugs are the most prescribed, making medications like Vicodin hugely popular.
The problem is serious enough that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made some recommendations to make it harder for Americans to get Hydrocodone-containing medications in the first place. The FDA suggests that doctors no longer be allowed to respond to a patient phone call reporting pain by simply calling in a prescription. Instead, the agency wants to require patients to visit their doctor in-person, whether for an initial prescription or for a refill. And pharmacies would only be permitted to fill handwritten prescriptions.
Stricter access should make it harder for a person to intentionally abuse these medications, but sometimes overdose occurs when a person with a legitimate prescription takes too many pills or uses them too often. The FDA proposal won’t prevent these mishaps, nor will they curb the problem of mixing opioid painkillers with alcohol or other drugs, another deadly problem.
The fact that so many people are taking these drugs may have contributed to a casual attitude, which can prove to be a fatal mistake. Opioids are potent drugs which should be used with restraint and great caution.
If people using these drugs knew more about them, it might help turn things around. For example, opioids are most effective in treating short-term discomfort and pain. They are appropriate medication for post-operative pain or the pain due to traumatic injury. They are not as effective in treating long-term pain. Nonetheless, a large number of people with chronic pain are prescribed them. As many as 90 percent of those with ongoing conditions like arthritis or chronic back pain are given opioids. This makes little medical sense since the drugs show far less effectiveness with long-term pain.
People with long-term pain issues would be smart to check out some of the alternatives which could be equally effective in managing pain. There are things a person can do and things they should not do, but opioids are not the only or the best answer to chronic pain:
- Avoid alcohol. People who take opioids long-term can become less careful, and it’s always dangerous to mix alcohol with prescription drugs. The majority of opioid-related deaths occur because alcohol or another medication, usually a sedative, were used together.
- Family history. Talk to your doctor about any heredittary addiction or other potential risk factors.
- Investigate alternative pain management. Chronic back pain, osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia all improve with regular, gentle exercise. Sometimes massage, meditation and relaxation techniques can also help.
- Migraines. Occurrences can become less frequent with regular exercise. Lowering alcohol intake and looking for food triggers can likewise minimize migraines.
People are dying every day because of misuse of prescription opioids. Limiting the number of pills out in the general public is one way to combat the problem, but Americans must take greater responsibility for how they use these helpful but dangerous drugs.
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