Addressing the Opioid EpidemicKirsten B. Rasmussen
The purpose of this essay is to address the growing opioid epidemic that is sweeping across the United States. Although there is no cure-all solution to solving the opioid overdose crisis, this paper explains three possible strategies, in detail, that could aid in solving the nationwide epidemic. These proactive solutions include: monitoring the number of opioids prescribed by doctors, requiring rehabilitation to reoccurring patients of overdose, and increasing public access to overdose prevention medicine. The hope of implementing these vital concepts is to greatly diminish the abuse and overdose of opioids in the United States.
In busy city streets, in crowded apartments, even in dirty hospital beds, everyday American people are dying from opioid-related overdoses. Rather than avoiding the problem, Americans should be proactive in the search for solutions against this epidemic. Granted, there will never be a cure-all to remove drugs from the streets; however, monitoring the number of opioids prescribed by doctors, requiring rehabilitation to reoccurring patients of overdose, and increasing public access to overdose prevention medicine could save the lives of thousands of people in the United States every year.
Monitoring Prescribed Opioids
Out of the possible solutions mentioned above, perhaps one of the most controversial, requires monitoring doctor-prescribed opioids. Doctors often play a large role in the distribution of opioid drugs. Some doctors might not even realize that they are indirectly contributing to the opioid epidemic. However, by not strictly monitoring the distribution of opioids, they are actively releasing more on the market.
There are many prescriptions that fall into the classification of an “Opioid”, some of which are largely prescribed by doctors as a post-operation pain killer. In the online journal, Responding to the Fatal Opioid Overdose Epidemic: A Call to Nurses, Angela Clark stated, “Prescription and illicit opioids, including heroin, morphine, codeine, methadone, hydrocodone, oxycodone, hydromorphone, and fentanyl, contribute to the fatal opioid overdose epidemic” (Clark, 2014) All opioids, including those prescribed by doctors, have the potential to be incredibly dangerous and deadly if not taken correctly. According to a study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the number of opioid overdose deaths, including men and women, was a staggering 42,249 in 2016! Another study showcasing the number of deaths involving opioid pain relievers, like those prescribed by doctors, (excluding non-methadone synthetics) was 19,354 in 2016. (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2018) Keep in mind, those numbers are from the United States alone.
How can doctors modify their opioid distributions, while still catering to their patient’s needs? First and foremost, doctors need to start the conversation with first-time patients as well as reoccurring patients of prescription pain killers. It is a doctor’s responsibility to explain the possible repercussions and side-effects of taking these addictive narcotics. Patients also need to understand that a certain amount of pain is inevitable after surgery, and that they will only be given a set amount of pain-killers. Most importantly, the patients need to fully understand that these prescribed opioids should not be taken unless seriously needed. In the event that the pain-killer is not used, they should be flushed down the toilet or deposed of properly in order to avoid any misuse or theft.
An overwhelming question remains, why have these measures not been taken before? Well, these measures are currently being taken, but not to a strongest degree. Not to generalize, but most doctors often have the same mind-set, to help those in need and in pain. Therefore, if they can help an individual in pain, they will try to. It is human nature to help others, and unfortunately human nature takes over more often than not. Dr. Jacquelyn Corley, a doctor at Duke Neurosurgery even admitted that “In many ways, it is so much easier to over-medicate patients, especially those who struggle with pain that can interfere with emotional and physical recovery. Giving patients what they want for pain makes for a much more enjoyable hospital stay for them, and an easier patient for us to take care of.” (Corley, 2018) Simply stated, a known opioid abuser is often much easier to handle when they are medicated. Although it is not right by any means, it is happening all over the United States right now. Requiring Rehabilitation or Treatment Plans
Although the opioid epidemic could be partially solved by monitoring doctor prescribed opioids, it does not stop there. Many opioid abusers find it hard, if not impossible to quit. Requiring rehabilitation or treatment plans for reoccurring abusers could be one of the most vital steps in overcoming opioid overdoses. Rehabilitation has often been shown to aide in the recovery of reoccurring drug users. Although this method is often recommended to patients of known opioid abuse, it has never been a requirement.
There are a few well-established companies that cater specifically to opioid abuse treatment. The Hanzelden Betty Ford Foundation developed a twelve-step program in response to the nation’s emerging opioid addiction crisis. The twelve-step program is specific to each person and can include daily treatment, medical detox, group and one-on-one chemical health care, along with other services. (“Opioid & Heroin Addiction Treatment”, 2018) The Hanzelden Betty Ford Foundation also accepts most insurance, thus making it a more affordable option to those in desperate need of assistance.
Although there is no solid proof to support it, requiring reoccurring opioid abusers to explore other means of treatment, whether that be rehab, acupuncture, or non-addictive prescriptions, could cause them to eventually clean up.
Increasing Public Access to Medication
Due to the severity of the United States opioid epidemic, multiple steps must be taken to address and ultimately cure this plaguing addiction. The most essential effort in fixing the opioid epidemic could be found by increasing public access to overdose medication. There is currently one medication on the market that can effectively reverse an opioid overdose. According to an article by the Surgeon General, Naloxone hydrochloride, also called Narcan, is an FDA approved medication that has been show to save the life of individuals who are given the medication in a timely manner. (General, n.d) Therefore, by having Naloxone easily accessible to the public, the number of opioid overdoses would significantly drop.
Currently, Naloxone is only available at some community-based Opioid Overdose Prevention Programs (OOPP), special treatment facilities (like The Hanzelden Betty Foundation), and in hospitals. Even then, this makes it especially challenging for some opioid abusers to receive any help in the event of an overdose. As with any distribution of medicine, OOPPs need to be especially aware of who they are giving Naloxone to and under the correct conditions, in order to avoid misuse. Any medicine given to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose are not designed to be taken consecutively. By making Naloxone more available to the public, more lives could be saved every year.
However, on the opposing side of the argument, an Ohio R.N, Angela Clark stated that “Naloxone is safe, effective, and has no abuse potential; yet there remain barriers and opposition to preventing the widespread dissemination of Naloxone to the public” (Clark, 2014) The barriers that Angela spoke of are in relation to the views that Naloxone, when made available to the public, can be seen as a license to use. Meaning that if abusers have the ability to use opioids, then take Naloxone to avoid overdose, it completely defeats the purpose of stopping the opioid addiction. It rather, becomes used as a crutch to postpone the effects of an overdose for another day.
Every Effort Helps
Americans are dying every day from the growing opioid overdose epidemic. By using strategies like; regulating doctor prescribed opioids, requiring a treatment plan for reoccurring abusers, and making Naloxone more accessible to the public, could almost terminate the opioid epidemic dramatically. Although there may never be a cure-all solution, Americans must remember that every effort to stop the excessive distribution and consumption of narcotics can pave the way for a safer and healthier future for the United States.
Clark, A. (2014). Legislative: Responding to the Fatal Opioid Overdose Epidemic: A Call to Nurses. The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, 19(3). doi:10.3912/OJIN.Vol19No03LegCol01
Corley, J., Dr. (2018, January 9). Opinion | Fixing the opioid crisis may mean more pain for my patients. Retrieved November 9, 2018, from https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/fix-opioid-crisis-doctors-me-may-have-let-patients-be-ncna836141
General, S. (n.d.). Surgeon General’s Advisory on Naloxone and Opioid Overdose. Retrieved November 9, 2018, from https://www.surgeongeneral.gov/priorities/opioid-overdose-prevention/naloxone-advisory.htmlNational Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, August 09). Overdose Death Rates. Retrieved November 9, 2018, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates