Here’s a startling statistic: There are about 150 fatal drug overdoses everyday in the U.S. That means about every three weeks, the death toll is equivalent to the terrorist attack on September 1, 2001. The United States is the largest consumer of opioids worldwide, and our usage accounts for roughly 80 percent total. Almost half-a-million Americans have died in the last 15 years from an overdose, and the majority of those involve opioids.
How Did This Happen?
In the 1990’s, our country started on a path of excessive use of opioid painkillers. Doctors and medical professionals were concerned about chronic pain, and they pushed the idea that pain should be seen as a fifth vital sign, and checked just like our temperature. Around the same time, drug manufacturers were trying to boost sales of painkillers. They even told doctors drugs like OxyContin could be used without patients becoming addicted The rate of opioid prescriptions began to snowball. By 2015, according to the CDC, enough pills were being prescribed for every American to be medicated around the clock for three straight weeks
What Can We Do?
There isn’t much of a consensus regarding a strategy to fight the opioid crisis. As we have discussed, some pharmacies have begun to restrict prescription opioids, in the hope that a prohibition style approach is the solution. This is basically a quick fix, and critics say it won’t do much to solve the opioid crisis.
A long-term strategy that addresses all aspects of society could help. We need to focus on education for prevention, legislation to limit accessibility, as well as increased medication access for drug overdoses. The big pharmaceutical companies need oversight and better management as well.
It’s time for us to become better educated and more informed about addictive behavior and the disease of addiction. There is a stigma about addiction, because many believe addiction is not a disease because it’s caused by the person’s choice to use drugs or alcohol or to behave in a manner that is disruptive. We need to drastically change our thinking, and start tackling addiction like we do cancer, HIV and heart disease.