More than one out of three average Americans used a prescription opioid painkiller in 2015, despite growing concerns these medicines are promoting widespread addiction and overdose deaths, a new federal study shows.
Nearly 92 million U.S, adults, or about 38% of the population, took a legitimately prescribed opioid like OxyContin or Percocet in 2015, according to results from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
“The proportion of adults who receive these medications in any year seemed startling to me,” said study co-author Dr. Wilson Compton, deputy director of the U.S. National Institutes on Drug Abuse.
The survey found that 11.5 million people, or nearly 5% of the population, misused prescription opioids they’d obtained through illicit means. About 1.9 million Americans (0.8%) reported full-fledged opioid addiction.
Overall, the results indicate that the medical profession is doing a poor job of appropriately prescribing opioid painkillers, Compton said.
Previous studies have found “there’s still four times the rate of prescribing there was 15 years ago,” Compton said. “Even though the rates have leveled off, we have a long way to go in improving medical care so these are not as overprescribed as they are currently.”
These painkillers are highly addictive and potentially deadly. The number of overdose deaths involving opioids has quadrupled since 1999, concurrent with the quadrupling of opioid prescriptions, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Of those who misused prescription opioids, more than 50% got the medications as hand-me-downs from family or friends. Overall, nearly 60% of misuse involved taking opioids without a prescription.
“That tells us there are a lot of leftover medications,” Compton said. “In many cases, physicians could write smaller prescriptions, or avoid them completely for those who benefit from ibuprofen or acetaminophen,” for example, Motrin, Advil or Tylenol.
The broken system of prescribing opioids stretches back a least a decade, and has its roots in the belief that pain should be considered a “fifth vital sign” just as important as blood pressure, pulse, respiratory rate and level of oxygen saturation, said Dr. Jack Ende, president of the American College of Physicians.
Ende pointed out that the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is key to sorting out imbalances in opioid prescription. People with health insurance can be properly diagnosed and covered for nondrug pain treatments – like physical therapy – “rather than scrounge for opioids,” Ende said.
The study was published online July 31 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
This is a horrifying example of the hold Big Pharm has on the medical profession. How can any physician defend turning us into a nation of drug addicts? Studies indicate one in six employees in the U.S. are addicted to opioids.
That fact that the rate of prescribing has leveled off is no consolation. Maybe the market is just saturated, the obvious goal of Big Pharm.
The only way to stem the tide is to penalize the drug companies and the prescribing physicians. I believe both should be charged with second degree murder for every death from opioid overdose. If physicians were criminally responsible for their reckless prescription practices, they might change.
The Bottom Line:
The opioid epidemic effects all of us. You, one of your family members, or a close friend has an opioid addiction. You can help by returning unused drugs to the pharmacy. Most pharmacies have collection centers for this very purpose. Please don’t flush them down the toilet or throw them in the trash – they are a pollutant to our environment as well.
Source: July 31, 2017 National Institutes of Health