On July 1st, 2018 a new law went into effect prohibiting physicians to prescribe opioid drugs for more than seven days to patients with acute pain. Specifically, the law applies to physicians and patients in Florida, Tennessee, and Michigan. This law also affects cases of broken bones, back pain, short illnesses and most surgeries. In other words, all short-term acute pain cases.
The hope behind this law is that if there are fewer opioids drugs, there are also fewer chances for people to abuse them; which directly translates into fewer fatal overdoses. Research indicates that prescriptions lasting longer than seven days are more likely to result in abuse. Furthermore, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 80 percent of Americans using heroin reported misusing prescription opioids before they started using heroin.
Opioid Abuse and Overdoses
There is no question; opioid abuse is responsible for not just the deaths of thousands of people yearly, but also the destruction of many families. Additionally, the opioid crisis has affected the next generation of orphans or babies born dependent on opioids themselves. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), reports that every 25 minutes a baby is born suffering from opioid withdrawal. This means that the baby’s first experience in this world is that of fighting opioid dependence. If this is not a tragedy, I am not sure what it is.
Opioid-related deaths in adults have continuously increased in the last decade. Mainly because the signs of this growing opioid crisis were mostly ignored by those who receive our tax dollars to protect us. Currently, we cannot overlook the obvious anymore, and doctors have begun reducing the number of opioid prescriptions they write.
Between 2013 and 2017, there has been a 22 percent reduction of opioid prescriptions in the US. The numbers are encouraging but not nearly enough to control the continuously growing crisis. The number of overdose deaths continues to climb, and around 42,000 lives were lost to opioids in 2016 – more than in 2015 and indeed much less than 2017.
As staggering as these numbers may seem, the real number of overdose deaths is much higher. Overdose is often confused with suicide or other health failures. Besides, more people are using illicit drugs like heroin and fentanyl than ever before. These synthetic opioids are more difficult to detect and often combined with a variety of other substances. Therefore, it is a challenging process to be able to determine the exact reason for deaths when many emotional and physiological factors are present. The office of U.S. Surgeon General and U.S. Public Health Service disclosed that possibly between 1999 and 2015, more than 70,000 overdose deaths went unreported due to the incomplete cause of death reporting on death certificates. Which means the opioid epidemic is so much bigger than we can ever imagine.
Fighting the Opioid Crisis
Many different efforts to fight the opioid epidemic have been put in place in the last few years. From new state laws to insurance companies, it seems everyone is trying to help reverse this lethal crisis. The primary efforts to help set limits on opioid prescribing include:
- Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs PDMP – A statewide electronic database monitoring of controlled substance prescriptions. This program allows pharmacies and physicians to identify patients who are obtaining opioids from multiple providers; calculate doses and also identify patients who are being prescribed other medications such as benzodiazepines that may increase the risk of opioid overdose.
- E-prescribing -It is designed to cut down on “doctor shopping,” in which patients seek prescriptions from multiple clinics while eliminating paper prescriptions, which are much easier to alter or forge.
- Provide legal protection to anyone who reports an overdose.
- Annual reports for doctors on how many addictive drugs they prescribed and how their prescription practices compare to their peers.
- Automatically notify clinics and pharmacies if a patient’s medication purchases show signs of doctor shopping.
Each new effort will chip away at the opioid epidemic and overdose deaths. Although the goal of this restriction is that fewer people will suffer the consequences of Opioid Use Disorder, we hope that patients already dependent, will not progress into using illegal opioids like heroin. Furthermore, chronic pain patients need to be reassessed. We cannot discard the suffering of so many, without a second thought.
Therefore, we need to do place all our efforts in saving lives, and it’s probably not going to be enough. It took more than a decade to get into this crisis, and it will not come to a halt overnight. We need to continually try to eliminate the irresponsible prescribing and illegal sources while helping those who are struggling with pain, addiction or emotional difficulties.
New Law, New Hope
Like any new law, innocent people will suffer consequences they do not deserve in order to curb the abuse of others. Patients and doctors will fight the change, while others will turn to illegal forms of street opioids such as heroin. I genuinely hope for adequate and accessible pain and drug abuse treatment will be available for those who are in need.
Furthermore, we need to use the power of our social media to rescue our kids from the jaws of drug addiction. Education and preventive measures are always going to be the most effective means of reducing long-term effects to our society.
Young adults want to be heard, seen and understood. People want to have a voice and also make a difference. Let’s combine the desire of existing, to the need of remaining alive. Let’s give people the so much needed purpose. We need to invite them to share the stage, so their peers can also join. Kids are part of our present, and they are the future, let’s allow them also to become a solution.
Hopefully, these harsh measures will help reverse the direction of the opioid crisis, and lives can be immediately saved.