Today, a huge proportion of the American population – comprising teenagers, women and elderly people – is hooked on a wide variety of opioids, which is slowly evolving as the worst public health drug crisis in the country.
As per a 2016 report by the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), in 2015, of the 20.5 million Americans aged 12 or older having a substance use disorder, 2 million were diagnosed with a substance use disorder due to prescription pain relievers.
Currently, prescribing painkillers is considered as the first line of treatment for chronic pains due to critical illnesses. A regular consumption of such drugs not only leads to physical dependency to attain pain relief, but also leads to their use for recreational purposes.
American doctors wrote an alarming 200 million (approximate) prescriptions for opioid painkillers in 2014, with nearly 19,000 succumbing to them due to an overdose. To counter the impact of the rising mayhem, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the first national standards for prescription painkiller for the doctors in March 2016, which put a restriction on the number of prescriptions written for powerful drugs like OxyContin and Vicodin.
The guidelines also aimed at reducing the use of opioids as “gateway drugs,” which often lead to the development of addiction to other drugs such as heroin or morphine. As per the new guidelines, the prescription for painkillers should be written by doctors only after non-addictive pain relievers, behavioral changes and other options fail to provide any respite. It was also recommended to prescribe the lowest dose of the painkiller and continue with them only when the desired results are achieved.
However, it was not the first such step by the government to curb the ever-growing menace of opioid addiction. Earlier, initiatives were taken to restrict some widely prescribed painkillers by limiting their refills, using databases to monitor doctors’ prescription and signing a seven-day limit on first-time prescriptions for opioids.
While studies are still underway to identify the impact on the existing guidelines, it is expected that the suggested measures will make people less dependent on medicines, thereby reducing the risk of addiction to opioid drugs. However, experts believe that by adhering to the national guidelines issued to the physicians will help reduce the rate of opioid abuse in the country.
Leading a drug-free life is possible
Opioid addiction is characterized by an inclination toward prescribed and nonprescribed opioids, including heroin and morphine. These medicines are primarily prescribed by physicians to give some relief from chronic painful conditions. However, when used for nonmedical purposes, such drugs can produce feelings of euphoria and well-being by affecting the areas of the brain involved in reward.
Prescription drug addiction is usually triggered by an array of factors, such as environmental or genetic, but the biggest and most important contributing factor is the rapid growth in the number of prescriptions written by physicians.