National Pain: Opioid abuse continues to rise despite growing concern about addiction, epidemic
For patients experiencing pain, chronic or acute, a fast, effective solution is often sought after. The advent of modern medicine and the availability of prescription drugs have made pain a relatively simple symptom to combat - and a nationwide opioid epidemic easier to usher in.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine reports drug overdose as the leading cause of accidental deaths in the United States in 2015; 20,101 deaths of the total 52,404 were associated with prescription pain relievers. This is likely due to the highly addictive nature of opioids, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says results in at least 1 in 4 patients who are prescribed opioid painkillers for long term non-cancer pain struggling with addiction. The CDC also notes that accidental death is not the only concern with the prescription of opioids; emergency rooms receive over 1,000 patients every day for the misuse of prescription opioids.
"Additionally, the CDC states that in 2014, nearly 2 million Americans abused or became dependent on prescription opioids."
The risks associated with opioid prescription are not falling on deaf ears. In a Truven Health Analytics®-NPR Health Poll survey of 3,000 participants from November 1-15th, 2016, 35 percent who had been prescribed narcotic painkillers, and 46 percent of who had not, indicated concerns regarding the prescription and use of painkillers. Among those respondents who had taken opioids, the top concerns were side effects and fear of addiction; 38 and 27 percent, respectively. This sentiment is shared by participants who had not been prescribed painkillers as well. For all respondents, the top concern is also fear of addiction (33 percent) as well as side effects (30 percent), long-term health(14 percent), and drug abuse (13 percent.) In fact, 83 percent of participants report that they believe drug addiction to be linked to the use of painkillers.
With the overwhelming public unease regarding prescription painkillers, it would only make sense that patients avoid taking them. However, only 29 percent of the survey's participants have questioned or refused doctor-recommended painkillers, despite the concern for addiction and other consequences. Additionally, the CDC states that in 2014, nearly 2 million Americans abused or became dependent on prescription opioids. Despite rising concerns, patients are still falling subject to the risk of addiction.
Rather than prescribing narcotic painkillers for patient symptoms, physicians should refer to the opioid prescribing guidelines outlined by the CDC, which recommend pursuing effective non-narcotic treatments and medications first, rather than as an alternative. Physicians should also remain up to date on any continuing medical education courses in prescribing opioids required by their state medical board.