The opioid crisis has hit sufferers in two equally profound ways. Overprescribing, misuse and abuse have taken their toll on countless lives, with overdose death rates hitting epidemic proportions (130 per day in the U.S. alone!). But on the flip side of that coin, many doctors have become afraid to prescribe opioid pain medications at all, causing people who are genuinely suffering to go without pain relief. Some even resort to the black market for a continued supply, where many graduate to heroin. An astonishing 80% of people who are addicted to heroin started with prescription painkillers!
The FDA is finally speaking out about it...
Years of misinformation, pharmaceutical company greed and careless prescribing habits have led to an epidemic of opioid addiction across the country. The most recent estimates count about 1.7 million Americans as misusing or abusing some form of opioid drug. Overdoses kill about 130 people in the United States each day.
In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) began cracking down on over-prescribing practices. The CDC released new recommended guidelines for doctors, urging physicians to find non-opioid alternatives for most patients. In 2018, the National Institute of Health (NIH) doubled down by starting the HEAL Initiative, which focused on studying opioid abuse and searching for real solutions to end the problem.
These attempts proved a little too late for people already addicted to painkillers, and it also created unnecessary hurdles for patients genuinely suffering from intense pain. Subsequent reductions in opioid prescriptions led to some patients resorting to illegal means to continue their supply, and many of them eventually graduated to using heroin. As of 2017, 652,000 Americans were addicted to the potent, illegal narcotic, and about 80% of those addictions started with prescription painkillers.
The FDA has just released a new statement on the matter, urging doctors to find a more reasonable balance in their prescribing practices. While addressing the devastation that continues due to overprescribing, it raises the issue of needless suffering due to the reluctance many patients now face...
In the statement, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D writes:
"Tragically, we know that for some patients, loss of quality of life due to crushing pain has resulted in increased thoughts of or actual suicide. This is unacceptable. Reflecting this, even as we seek to curb overprescribing of opioids, we also must make sure that patients with a true medical need for these drugs can access these therapies."
The statement asks doctors to thoroughly weigh the benefits and risks of prescribing --- and not prescribing --- these drugs, taking into account each patient's situation and quality of life. Every patient and case is different, some patients need and should get opioids, some should not; doctors have to do a better job of really getting to know their patients' situations and histories - 10 minute doctor visits won't cut it. The FDA statement links to a revised blueprint for training doctors on prescribing these drugs responsibly to reduce patient misuse and addiction. It also stresses the importance of seeking out alternative forms of effective pain management.
There may be no quick and easy solution to the opioid epidemic, but finding balance for patients and offering better-informed prescribing practices could be a good start. It’s also up to us, as patients and family members, to be our own advocates by being informed about our medical decisions and speaking up when necessary. Opioids can be dangerous, devastating drugs --- but they can also be life-savers for those who genuinely need them.
~ Here’s to Your Health and Wellness