The opioid crisis is the rapidly growing rate in which patients are abusing drugs such as the commonly prescribed medication morphine and the highly addictive recreational drug heroin. Other opiates include Oxycodone, Vicodin and codeine. According to the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 90 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. From that same report, there were 47,055 drug overdose deaths in the US in 2014. Of that number, nearly 61 percent of those deaths were attributed to abuse of opiates.
The cause of the epidemic isn’t the patients, rather the prescribers. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, the cause of the epidemic can be traced back to the mid ’90s when doctors began to push for pain to be considered a vital sign. Also, pharmaceutical companies reassured the medical community that patients would not become addicted. This resulted in a greater number of them being prescribed.
The Metrosphere answers your pressing questions about the growing issue.
Wait, Pain as a vital sign? What does that mean?
When monitoring and detecting medical problems, physicians and first responders look for five vital signs. These signs are Body temperature, pulse rate, respiration rate—also known as rate of breathing, blood pressure and – the most controversial – pain. The importance of the first four signs were talked about in a 2007 edition of the magazine Fire Engineering, “They determine which treatment protocols to follow, provide critical information needed to make life-saving decisions, and confirm feedback on treatments performed.”
How severe of an issue is this?
According to the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, the state had 472 deaths by opioid abuse in 2015 – over 250 more than the state’s homicide total of 202. It was the fourth consecutive year in which all opioid overdoses outnumbered homicides. On Aug. 10, President Trump called the crisis a national emergency. As of press time, however, the White House has yet to officially declare it a national emergency.
What areas of Colorado are affected the most? Who’s most affected?
The state health department reported that the age demographic with the most overdose deaths were males and females ages 45-55, while non-hispanic whites had the highest death rate than any other race. In terms of most affected area, Pueblo County saw 27.9 deaths per 1,000 population. Democratic Sen. Leroy Garcia was quoted in The Denver Post on the issue in his hometown, saying “The failure to address this concern is leading to more and more states seeing more and more people dying at younger and younger ages — leaving more and more families torn and more and more communities torn apart and devastated by this travesty.” From 2013-15, Denver County saw the third most opioid overdose deaths in Colorado, with 8.0 deaths per 1000, just behind Pueblo and Adams County. It is possible that some of these numbers are lower or higher in actuality as some autopsies do not include the specific tests required to find the drugs in one’s system.
What can be done to stop this?
The Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation conducted a survey in Fall 2016 and found that only 62 percent of those surveyed were educated by a physician on pain management strategies that didn’t involve medication. If these numbers represent the population beyond those surveyed, which they might more or less, this means that over 200 million americans are not well versed in alternative methods to pain medication. An article by The Hill citing this study, claims that simply educating the population on the issue and the dangers of opiates could reduce the number of overdoses and even usage significantly.
Who’s going to educate us? The doctors?
Yes and no. For physicians, they can have limited time with patients due to financial pressure on the industry. This can severely limit the face to face time that doctors have with patients, who are also likely facing severe pain or discomfort and are seeking immediate relief, potentially pressuring doctors for a prescription. Responsibility also goes to the citizens and those afflicted by the drugs to educate themselves via online resources, studies and scientific journals.
If you or a loved one is suffering from an opioid addiction, call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) to speak with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.