Posted on May 24, 2017

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Opioid Abuse: The Not So Hidden Dirty Secret

Whether you are a pharmacist, physician, clinic or hospital, the two words of ‘opioid abuse’ are well-known and you are probably on the front lines of dealing with the problem. The addiction to opioids has been listed as the worst drug crisis in the history of the United States and death tolls are rising every year. With the current death rate due to opioid abuse at 27,000 per year, the medical community is trying to take action to curtail this disaster, but many simply don’t know what to do.

Almost every medical seminar around the country includes opioid abuse as part of their agenda, however, it is the medical community itself that has exacerbated the problem to begin with. Whether they admit it (or not) this problem has been slowly increasing over the last few decades as prescriptions for opioids needed as pain killers continued to increase. A typical example would have been a patient recuperating from a standard surgery or medical procedure and then given an opioid prescription for the relief of pain. The addiction properties of the opioid would take over and within a short time, the patient would exhibit all of the symptoms of addiction.

According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control) in 1999, a majority of overdose deaths could be attributed to opioids (4,030/yr), cocaine (3,822/yr) and heroin (1,960/yr). The statistics in 2014 showed that cocaine overdose deaths dropped, while there was a 369% increase in opioid deaths and 439% increase in heroin deaths.

A leading factor to this horror is that the quantity of opioid prescriptions has tripled over the past twenty years. In a report supplied by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 76 million opioid prescriptions were written in 1991, whereas it jumped to 219 million by 2011. Since there is a cause and effect for this circumstance, the increase catapulted the heroin trade from the drug cartels, which is easier to get than prescription drugs. In essence, opioid addiction fueled the heroin trade due to demand.

Hospitals, clinics and physician offices have observed that patients that are taking opioids will not always convey the information. Patients will go so far as ‘doctor and pharmacy shopping’ to have access to the addictive medication. This presents additional problems when patients must have other medications to treat disorders and disease states. Their lack of communication puts them at risk for medicinal interactions as well as overdose conditions.

The problem has become so severe that some clinic and hospital locations are working in conjunction with labs and are requiring that patients have a toxicology screening prior to prescribing any additional medication. In some cases, toxicology labs are appearing as part of the clinic/hospital environment. In some states, prescriptions are being monitored and this has caused a drastic reduction in the quantity of opioids prescribed by physicians, creating a problem for those patients that need them for pain management.

Opioid addiction has hit individuals of all race and gender demographics, however, according to the CDC there are some states that have higher opioid prescription rates than others. It also seems that while heroin addiction seems to be the drug of choice for youth, opioid addiction occurs in middle age and older.