Opioid Addiction and Methadone as a Treatment Option

Is Overprescription of Opioids to Blame for the Opioid Epidemic?

The overprescription of opioids is a big problem in the USA. Drug overdoses killed 63,632 Americans in 2016 and around two-thirds of these deaths involved opiates.

So why are these drugs still being overprescribed to this day? This is a highly complex problem with a lot of different factors at play.

An Authoritative Source

One of the big factors in the prescription opioids problem is that people are prescribed these drugs from an authoritative source. People trust their doctors to make the right medical decisions. Therefore, they might not be aware of the risks of opiate medication.

Some people who abuse opiate medications might not even realize they have a problem. They might only become aware when something serious happens, such as an overdose or withdrawal.

Another big factor in the opiate epidemic is the fact that these drugs are so easy to consume. Unlike a lot of illicit street drugs, you simply consume these prescription opioids in pill form. This has led to many people assuming these drugs are safe.

Just because you’re not snorting or injecting these drugs doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous.

Why the Overprescription of Opioids?

There are a few factors that have influenced the overprescription of opioids in the United States.

For instance, many doctors were mistakenly taught that patients who were in pain could not get addicted to pain medication. It was believed that once their pain stopped, a patient would simply stop using the drugs.

Unfortunately, this was not true, and many patients would continue using opiates long after their pain had subsided. If their legitimate supply was cut off, many users would then start looking for opiates on the street. Many heroin users in the USA today started off with prescription painkillers.

Another factor in opioid dependence is the aggressive marketing from the pharmaceutical companies. In recent years, these companies have spent much more money promoting their opioid products.

This kind of “direct to the customer” marketing has only reinforced the belief that these drugs are good for you and won’t cause any problems. Thankfully, steps are now been taken to rein in advertising for prescription opioids.

Easy Availability

Another factor in the epidemic is it’s just too easy to get a hold of these pills. Many users have learned how to fake symptoms in order to get a legitimate painkiller prescription. And other people might go to multiple doctors at once to get more pills.

Some might use these pills recreationally and others may sell them on the street. The wide availability of these pills and the perception amongst the public that they are “safe” has contributed heavily to the opiate problem in the United States.

All Opiates Lead to Heroin

One of the big problems with prescription painkillers is users will eventually switch to more dangerous alternatives, such as heroin. Heroin belongs to the same class of drugs as opiate painkillers and it becomes the drug of choice of most long-term users.

This is because heroin is cheaper and the high it provides is much more intense. It is also easier to get than prescription painkillers. Someone who’s had their prescription supply cut off is likely to turn to heroin.

Shockingly, there is evidence to suggest that heroin might be a safer alternative. In 2014, for instance, the overdose rates for prescription painkillers were twice as high as the overdoses on heroin.

What Can Be Done?

There are a few steps to take that could help combat the overprescription problem.

One of the main issues is patients need education. No one should be prescribed opiates without understanding exactly what they’re getting into. Patients should be aware of the addictive potential of these drugs.

Another factor is doctors themselves need to be aware of the addiction potential for these drugs. This is a difficult problem to address, as there is a fine line between pain management and addiction. Every case needs to be carefully considered.

Doctors need to consider pain management alternatives. Any patient who is prescribed opiates needs to have their usage levels monitored carefully.

A Complex Problem

When it comes to the overprescription problem, there are many factors at play.

For instance, those from a lower socioeconomic background are significantly more at risk. Level of education has also been shown to be a key factor. Those who’ve attained a higher level of education are significantly less likely to get a prescription for opioids.

It has also been shown that geography has an influence on prescription rates. The more rural areas of the United States, such as the Southeastern States and the Northwest, have much higher rates of prescription painkiller overdoses than other areas.

Alternatives

So what are some alternatives to prescribing these kinds of pills?

There are many choices other than opioids. Medical marijuana, for instance, can be a less harmful alternative. Cannabis provides patients with effective pain relief but is significantly less addictive than opiates.

Medical marijuana is also a desirable alternative because it can’t be overdosed on. There is even evidence that CBD, a non-psychoactive compound found in cannabis, is a good way to treat opiate addiction.

There needs to be a good support system in place for people who develop opiate addictions. If someone is seriously addicted to opioids, a methadone treatment program might be one of the only ways they can recover.

Methadone treatment allows an addict to safely withdraw from opiates. It also means the addict will not have to experience all of the debilitating withdrawal symptoms.

Avoid the Use of Opioids

There is no question that prescription opiates are being overused in the United States. Despite being legal, these drugs have huge potential for abuse and addiction.

Thankfully, steps are being taken against the overprescription of opioids epidemic. Both the public and healthcare professionals are becoming increasingly aware of the harm these drugs can cause.

Are you or a loved one suffering from opioid addiction and want to turn your lives around? Read about how methadone treatment can help.

Sources


[1] U.S. drug overdose deaths continue to rise; increase fueled by synthetic opioids | CDC Online Newsroom | CDC. (2018, September 24). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2018/p0329-drug-overdose-deaths.html

[2] National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019, January 29). Overdose Death Rates. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates

About the author

Dr. Michael Carlton, MD.

Leading addictionologist, Michael Carlton, M.D. has over 25 years of experience as a medical practitioner. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and returned for his MD from the College of Medicine at the University of Arizona in 1990. He completed his dual residency in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics and his Fellowship in Toxicology at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center and Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

He has published articles in the fields of toxicology and biomedicine, crafted articles for WebMD, and lectured to his peers on medication-assisted treatment. Dr. Carlton was a medical director of Community Bridges and medically supervised the medical detoxification of over 30,000 chemically dependent patients annually.

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