About 130 Americans die every day of opioid overdoses, and the majority of them are using valid prescriptions. Despite the risks, doctors continue to over-prescribe narcotic painkillers, which creates the perfect setting for addiction and misuse. Just as concerning is the money trail that traces directly to the rates in which doctors are prescribing these powerful and highly addictive drugs.
Addicts are easy to make, and opioid addiction can begin in as few as 5 days! Opioid prescription rates have a direct impact on related death rates, and the amount of “marketing” directed at doctors can have an impact on how liberally they prescribe.
About 25% of chronic pain sufferers who use opioid painkillers don’t take them as prescribed, and about 10% fall victim to opioid use disorder. The length of time someone takes prescription painkillers has a considerable impact on whether they’ll begin to abuse them, but the window can be a small one. A person can begin sliding down that dark hole of addiction after only 5 days of use, yet many doctors prescribe opioids for much longer.
Genetics can increase the likelihood that a person will abuse opioids, but the drugs are so addictive, literally anyone can fall victim. This leaves prescribing doctors as the main gatekeepers, putting lives at potential risk each time they write a new script. Some patients will continue abusing painkillers even after their doctors cut them off. In fact, about 75% of all heroin users start out as patients with legitimate opioid prescriptions.
Follow the Money
A study followed prescribing trends after tracking $39.7 million spent on opioid "marketing" between August of 2013 and December of 2015. Drug marketing has traditionally come in the form of lunches, “starter coupons” for free prescriptions, all-expense-paid trips to symposia and other gifts. Researchers found the more time and money pharmaceutical reps spent on doctors, the more opioid prescriptions the doctors wrote.
This is significant because more prescriptions going out means more opioid addicts being created and that leads to higher death rates. This means drug companies and the representatives sent to “market” them have as much a hand in overdose numbers as the doctors who do the prescribing. Researchers are continuing to look at the connection, as well as its economic impacts, but the death rate has yet to decline despite recent attempts at regulating prescription numbers. Could this be because recent attempts to reduce prescriptions do not address the people already using opioids, who might already be on a path to addiction?
The U.S. will continue to see an epidemic of opioid overdoses until officials crack down on the influences that lead to people becoming addicts. Until more is done, it’s up to each of us to change the statistics. If you or someone you know is struggling with opioid addiction and needs help, check out the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Take advantage of the resources on their website or call their national helpline at 1-800-662-HELP. They can set you up with treatment programs in your area.
~ Here’s to Your Health and Wellness