The opioid crisis...how is it a crisis and can it really be solved?
Opioids are substances that can be consumed in order to affect or alter the central nervous system's primary ability to process pain. As such, this has several serious implications both physically and mentally. It is why opioids are highly effective, addictive, and potentially harmful, and why the federal government classifies them as a controlled substance for dispensation and possession, and often a topic of legislation when misused or illegally circulated in the black market.
A “Schedule I” drug is defined as not having any currently accepted medical use and has a high potential for abuse. Heroin is an example of such an opiate, and addiction to it has been linked to the misuse of prescription pain medications (Schedule II drugs) such as Vicodin, Dilaudid, Demerol, OxyContin, Morphine and Fentanyl. The California Department of Health reported 2,196 deaths took place in 2017 due to opioid overdose, and 4,281 ER visits (excluding heroin use) due to overdose that same year. The National Institute of Health also has estimated that about 80% of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids!
Here are the statistics according to a 2017 estimate by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
47,000 deaths in America (130 deaths a day ) from an opiate drug overdose (including prescription pain relievers)
A baby is born suffering from opioid withdrawal every 15 minutes
$78.5 Billion dollars is lost annually through addiction treatment, lost productivity, and criminal justice involvement
The Midwestern region saw opioid overdoses increase 70 percent from July 2016 through September 2017
How did this happen?
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) acknowledges that in the late 1990’s, pharmaceutical companies reassured the medical community that patients would not become addicted to opioid pain relievers and healthcare providers began to prescribe them at greater rates. The increase in prescription opioid medications as a primary treatment modality for pain led to widespread misuse of both prescription and non-prescription opioids before it became clear that these medications could indeed be highly addictive and dangerous. And in 2017, the HHS declared a public health emergency and took measures to combat the epidemic.
Are there realistic solutions?
Situations like the one described above took time to spiral out of control. Pain is the most common reason for many ER visits and a high motivator for seeking medical attention. When so many people need attention for pain relief and return to function hospitals and medical doctor’s offices become overwhelmed, and medication addresses those issues quickly, but with dire consequences. Feeling better is not the same as getting better, and returning to activity too soon (while medicated) leads to further damage and worsening of the condition.
Finding viable alternatives to managing pain must be a priority for all types of medical providers as well as consumers. Patients must be informed and consent to the use of prescriptive opiates when managing their pain. Patients and consumers could also seek out other evidence based modalities such as Physical Therapies, Acupuncture, nutritional support, and Chiropractic care as a means of treatment over medications whenever possible.
Pain is only one aspect of patient care. Avoiding repetitive stress and correcting injury patterns is another aspect of patient care that is addressed by physical and occupational therapists. Correcting dietary influences on inflammation processes are also important. Building strength and improving mobility is another aspect of completing a course of care when someone has pain and disability. There are well documented options out there.
We live in the age of abundant access to information, and it is imperative that we use this information not just for knowledge, but to gain wisdom for life’s choices. Let us become informed consumers of our medical system and be familiar with and utilize the resources that are available in our community. Be healthy everyone!
Dr. Adrian Pujayana has been providing drug-free solutions for health and wellness to adults, athletes, and youth since 2000 through his private practice at Family Chiropractic Center of South Pasadena, a place for strength training and nutrition based health care.