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Analyzing unrelenting growth in opioid crisis

Analyzing unrelenting growth in opioid crisis

01-05 | CDAH Team

The past two decades have seen an escalation in opioid epidemic in the United States  due to aggressive marketing and over prescription of painkillers. Reportedly, the rate of prescription of painkillers has increased by manifold because of all kind of promotion and marketing strategies. The reputed manufacturers of painkillers often play down the life-threatening repercussions of such medications.

This has led to complexities in the health outcomes of individuals consuming the medications either prescribed to them or abused by them. The rising use of prescription opioids in the U.S. during the last two decades has contributed to not only complications in health but also caused a massive upsurge in the number of overdoses that has claimed more lives than motor vehicle crashes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rate of prescription of opioids increased four times between 1999 and 2015. In the same period, over 183,000 people have died due to an opioid overdose. In 2015 alone, more than 33,000 Americans succumbed to the fatal consequences of opioids, which is more than any previous year on record. It has been established that nearly half of all deaths from opioid overdose involves a prescription opioid.

Opioid abuse is America’s leading cause of morbidity and mortality among its youth. Over the past two decades, doctors have written a humungous number of opioid prescriptions to treat pain. This was quickly followed by an incredible rise in the nonmedical use of such drugs by adolescents (12 to 17 years of age) and young adults (18 to 25 years). While around 891,000 adolescents in the age group 12 to 17 misused opioids in the past year, as many as 2.5 million adults in the age group 18 to 25 abused opioids.

Understanding magnitude of prescription opioid across different age groups and demography

According to a survey, published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, nearly 92 million American adults used prescription opioid pain relievers in 2015. This represents more than a third of the (37.8 percent) of the population. Out of this, 11.5 million Americans (4.7 percent) misused the medications, which increased to 11.8 million in 2016. The misuse of opioids could be in the form of not using the drugs as directed by doctors or using them without a valid prescription.

According to the above study, the likely candidates to misuse or abuse opioids are those who are unemployed, uninsured, had low income, suffered from a mental illness like depression, and were already struggling with other addictions to heroin, sedatives, etc.

Older citizens above 50 years of age and women were found to be prescribed painkillers more frequently than those between 18 and 49 years of age, and college graduates. About two-thirds (63.4 percent) of those who reported misusing opioids did so to relieve physical pain. Among those who misused opioids, 59.9 percent did not have a valid prescription and 40.8 percent obtained the drugs from friends.

Ways to neutralize the opioid crisis

The poor treatment of pain has turned it into a major clinical and public health concern. Moreover, it has emerged as the gateway for other substance-abusing behaviors in the U.S. Therefore, patients need to be provided alternative pain treatments to dissuade them from seeking opioid painkillers outside the health care system or turning to other illicit opioids, such as heroin or fentanyl.

As a remedial measure, doctors need to monitor their patient’s progress, reduce prescriptions whenever necessary, and check for the signs of abuse and dependence. The patient’s history of mental illness and behavioral disorders need to be taken into consideration in programs aimed at reducing opioid addiction.

Over prescription of opioids has been the culprit behind the intentional or unintentional rise of surplus medicines. Such medicines have landed up in the hands of those who abuse them for recreation purposes. Therefore, stringent guidelines need to be followed while prescribing painkillers.

Stop popping pills

The need of the hour is to expand addiction treatment facilities across the country, conduct learning programs for doctors to properly prescribe pain medication, equip all law enforcement officers with anti-overdose remedy naloxone, develop new fentanyl-detection tests, and improve data sharing among health care practitioners and law enforcement agencies.

If you or your loved one is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, connect to the Colorado Drug Addiction Helpline to know about the addiction treatment centers in Colorado specializing in the best evidence-based intervention plans. Call our 24/7 helpline number 866-218-7546 or chat online for further information on addiction treatment in Colorado.

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