One of the key aspects of human efficiency is making decisions based on facts and data rather than ideological thinking. This is a critical part of having an efficient government and political system.
Opioids are a class of strong painkillers such as oxycodone that have been prescribed to relieve pain for decades in the U.S. Due to their addictive nature, their use has exploded in the last few years. In high doses, their sedative effects can cause respiratory failure and death.
The number of overdose deaths in the U.S. is increasing exponentially with about 64,000 people dying in 2016. About two thirds of overdoses are linked to opioids. About 80% of the global supply of opioids is consumed in the U.S. with the rural, white, working class community being hit the hardest by this epidemic. Drug overdoses are the leading cause of death for people under 50 years old in this country.
The epidemic began in the 1990’s when doctors, backed up by the pharmaceutical companies, started prescribing increasing amounts of opioids to treat all kinds of pain. About 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain. One of the problems was that in the 1980’s many experts did not believe that opioids were addictive.
However, as opioid users became addicted they started going to more powerful drugs such as heroin and fentanyl. Fentanyl is 30 to 50 times more powerful than heroin.
So, what can be done about the problem? Possible actions can be categorized as prevention, treatment, and response:
- Prevention – this category consists basically of education and limiting the length of time that doctors prescribe opioid painkillers to patients. The number of patients who have had these prescribed and end up addicted depends on this factor. In addition, it has been hypothesized that the emerging social crisis and despair in many parts of the country is also a contributing factor. An increased focus on job training and an improved social safety net as exists in many other countries is needed in the U.S.
- Treatment – A surgeon general’s report in 2016 indicated that only about 10% of people who suffer from drug use disorder get the appropriate treatment because of a lack of available facilities or cost. Treatment usually consists of what is referred to as MAT (medication-assisted treatment). The medication is often methadone. The number of treatment facilities available needs to increase.
- Response – Naloxone is administered to people who overdose, usually by police or first responders, many of whom now carry a supply.
With this epidemic becoming worse by the day, the government needs to react quickly to both mandate limits on the amount and length of time that such painkillers can be prescribed for. In addition, the number and availability of treatment centers needs to increase quickly to avoid more unnecessary deaths.
The goal of these posts is to provide the fact-based story behind issues that we are facing in this country. It is then up to our government to take action to solve them.