12 Oct Making Pain Medication Accessible While Limiting Misuse
In recent decades, the misuse and abuse of prescription painkillers has become a serious problem. Emergency departments report increased numbers of cases involving overdose or serious side effects due to the misuse of opioid painkillers.
In the U.S., many individuals who become addicted to opioid painkillers do not fit the typical profile of a drug user. In some cases, a patient is prescribed an opioid to treat a serious pain problem caused by an injury or a chronic illness. As the patient builds up tolerance to the drug, they need increasingly larger doses to achieve the same pain relief.
However, in other cases, the drugs are being used to achieve a high similar to that experienced with a street drug. The high that accompanies opioids, for instance, is similar to the high that comes with heroin use. Pills are often taken from a forgotten bottle of pain medication left in the medicine cabinet.
Compounding the problem is that many adults and teens are misinformed about prescription painkillers, mistakenly believing that the drugs are safer than street drugs like heroin or cocaine. In fact, the side effects of prescription painkillers can require treatment for stroke, heart palpitations and other problems. In addition, prescription medications can often have unexpected negative interactions with other medications the person is taking.
The World Drug Report 2014, a publication of the United Nations, discusses maintaining the balance between making pain medication available for those who need it for chronic pain management and limiting the misuse and abuse of painkillers.
The International Narcotics Control Board stated in its 2009 report that drug control treaties are fundamentally intended to ensure that narcotics and psychotropic substances are available for medical and scientific use. These drugs are an important part of treatment for those who suffer from late-stage cancers, AIDS and surgical procedures.
Each country must find ways to balance the need for prescription painkillers in medical practice with the high potential for abuse. The abuse of prescription painkillers, according to the World Drug Report, is high in high-income countries like Canada, Australia and the U.S., where there is a high level of use for medical purposes. However, the abuse of prescription painkillers is also high in low- to middle-income countries like Nigeria and Pakistan, says the report. These two countries have the lowest per capital use of opioids for medical purposes.
This finding indicates that making opioids available for medical uses may not be directly linked to an increase in misuse and abuse.
The report notes that because of a concern about the misuse of prescription painkillers, many countries have implemented unduly restrictive or burdensome laws. Contrary to the provisions of the conventions, these restrictions have limited the availability of prescription painkillers to a significant portion of the population.
Factors that inhibited the availability of adequate pain management through medications included a lack of adequate training for healthcare professionals, particularly when it came to recognizing a need for pain medication in their patients; economic problems that led to deficiencies in the drug supply chain, or a country placing low priority on health care or pain management.
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