The abuse of prescription painkillers, heroin, and other opioids has been responsible for an unprecedented rise is loss of life due to overdose in recent years. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drug overdose deaths from these substances tripled between 2000 and 2014, and deaths from opioid painkillers alone rose 9% in 2014. These statistics clearly indicate that the U.S. is in the midst of an opioid crisis, with cities like New Orleans grappling to respond to the growing strain of this epidemic.
Prescription painkillers are intended for short-term use to alleviate acute pain, and these medications are not to be administered for long-term, chronic pain scenarios due to their habit-forming properties. And while the number of prescriptions written for these types of drugs has begun to go down in recent years, clinicians are still being advised to consider the risks versus the benefits of prescribing painkillers for their patients.
More Pills than Patients
Some areas of the country have been hit harder than others by this devastating epidemic. In the state of Louisiana alone, the number of active prescriptions for painkillers exceeds the number of total residents in this state. This scenario has contributed to increased rates of addiction, death by overdose, and soaring insurance costs in Louisiana and other neighboring southeastern states. Clearly, Louisiana is paying a high price in response to mounting rates of opioid addiction, and communities throughout the state are suffering from the devastating effects of this form of chemical dependence.
As government officials, law enforcement agents, and public health officials have attempted to find ways to respond to this growing crisis, new legislation has been enacted to curb the amount of prescriptions that are being written for opioids. While these new regulations have garnered criticism from some patient groups, outcomes like Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs) have allowed for the creation of databases to track how many prescriptions each person has at any given time. These databases prevent individuals from engaging in drug-seeking behaviors like doctor shopping in which one requests prescriptions from multiple doctors at the same time.
Sadly, at the same time that new programs and restrictions have begun to limit access to prescription painkillers, another unfortunate scenario has emerged. As opioid-dependent individuals have found themselves no longer able to obtain prescription drugs through doctors’ offices, they have been forced to look elsewhere for substances of abuse. This has resulted in men and women, who were once abusing prescription painkillers, turning to illicit drugs such as heroin to achieve the desired effects.