There is a silent menace among us, a subject people avoid discussing, the pink elephant in the room, and its name is opioid addiction.
Opium is an addictive drug made from the opium poppy. Opiates are narcotics, “a drug (such as morphine or codeine) containing or derived from opium and tending to induce sleep and alleviate pain.”
The good news? Opiates are excellent pain-killers and will knock you out into a pleasant state of oblivion.
The bad news? Opiates are highly addictive.
Along with pain relief, opioids sedate the part of the brain in charge of breathing. High doses can cause the respiratory system to shut down, even to the point of death.
Drug names for legal opioids you might recognize include oxycodone (OxyContin and Percocet), hydrocodone (Vicodin), and a high-strength synthetic opioid called fentanyl. The big name on the illegal list is heroin.
Ease of access to both prescription and non-prescription drugs that contain opium derivatives has created a national health crisis. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse:
“Every day, more than 115 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids.”
The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) informs us that:
“Drug overdose deaths are the leading cause of injury death in the United States.”
Opioids can be justified medically – but they can also be misprescribed or overprescribed. Since the late 1990s, dispensing doctors get a kick-back from drug sales as an incentive to push those products to the patients. CNN reported that a joint study with Harvard University found a very disturbing fact:
“Opioid manufacturers are paying physicians huge sums of money – and the more opioids a doctor prescribes, the more money he or she makes.”
Health insurer Blue Cross Blue Shield says that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) determined that “opioids (including prescription opioids and heroin) kill more than 33,000 people annually, which is more than any year on record and more than at the peak of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) epidemic. Opioid abuse/overdose is considered a leading cause of shortened life expectancy in the U.S.”
How could so many people develop such a potentially lethal treatment regime? Doctor’s orders. It turns out that many overdose victims are not illegal drug users, but “just plain folks” whose doctor got them hooked on a powerful, brain-altering chemical.
The HHS confirms this astonishing fact – doctors have written FOUR TIMES the number of legal drug orders in less than 20 years:
“Since 1999, the amount of prescription drugs prescribed and sold in the United States has nearly quadrupled, yet there has not been an overall change in the amount of pain that Americans report. Overprescribing leads to more abuse and more overdose deaths.”
Patients complaining of “stress” or migraine headaches who visit their physician might unexpectedly end up with a serious drug habit. The body develops a tolerance for opioids consumed on a regular basis, and it takes higher doses to achieve the same effect, until an upper threshold is reached. At this point, the patient is, by now, probably addicted to a Schedule 1 narcotic that isn’t even stopping the pain anymore.
There is no question that Big Pharma is to blame. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says the drug makers flat-out lied to the healthcare providers – who, incredibly, believed them. Hadn’t those gullible, unquestioning “scientists” learned their lesson from the cigarettes-don’t-cause-cancer scandal? Apparently not:
“Pharmaceutical companies reassured the medical community that patients would not become addicted to prescription opioid pain relievers, and healthcare providers began to prescribe them at greater rates.”
How do you rate a medical doctor who doesn’t know that opiates are highly addictive, need to be dispensed with care, prescribed as few as possible, and only on a genuine-need basis?
Healthcare provider education and training issues aside, let’s talk about greed. Business Insider lays it on the line:
“Companies pay doctors millions of dollars to promote not their most innovative or effective drugs, but some of their most unremarkable.”
Now let’s talk about bribes and conflicts of interest:
“Surveys conducted in 2004 and again in 2009 showed that more than three-quarters of doctors had at least one type of financial relationship with a drug or medical device company.”
Did that sober you up?
The fact is that there are many alternative therapies to opiates, as described by DrugAbuse.com:
• Over-the-Counter pain relievers
• Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
• Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors
• Physical Therapy
• Massage, Acupuncture and Chiropractic Care
Great news came last October 2017 from the Joint Commission, the not-for-profit group that accredits more than 20,000 national health care organizations and programs. A new mandate now requires hospitals to provide nonpharmacologic (non-drug) pain treatment options, including acupuncture, chiropractic treatment, massage, and patient education.
The elderly are especially vulnerable to over-eager pill-pushing providers. Why not inventory your parents’ medicine cabinet to see what they are on? The truth might surprise you, and not pleasantly.
As always, be aware. Knowledge is power. Use your common sense and get help when you need it.
Don’t become an unwitting statistic in the American Opioid Epidemic.