You Are Not Immune! An Epidemic Is Sweeping The Nation

Many Americans suffer from acute or chronic pain. Whether you fell off the ladder repairing the roof, got into a car accident, or have a debilitating disease, the preferred medical approach would be opioids for pain management. This common approach is also creating a common enemy: addiction.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, reported in a recent data brief that, “Opioid abuse and overdose deaths are at epidemic levels in the United States. In 2015, the number of opioid related deaths exceeded 33,000 for the first time. Nearly half of these deaths involved prescription opioids.”

The IG report highlighted four staggering statistics that show how opioid use in the U.S. is not to be taken lightly. They are:

  • One in three Medicare Part D beneficiaries received a prescription opioid in 2016.
  • About 500,000 beneficiaries received high amounts of opioids.
  • Almost 90,000 beneficiaries are at serious risk; some received extreme amounts of opioids, while others appeared to be “doctor shopping.”
  • About 400 prescribers had questionable opioid prescribing patterns for beneficiaries at serious risk.

The Medicaid program, known as Part D, serves more than 43 million seniors and disabled people. It is not a new problem that doctors are over prescribing opioids for Medicare and Medicaid patients.

NPR reported that,

“ProPublica first highlighted the problem in 2013, by publishing data on the drugs prescribed by every physician in the Part D program. Following that report, CMS put in place what it called an Overutilization Monitoring System, which tracked beneficiaries at the highest risk for overdoses or drug abuse. It asked the private insurance companies that run the drug program on its behalf, under contract, to review the cases and provide a response.”

The Overutilization Monitoring System is expected to have good results in curbing prescription opioid abuse. With that said, not all opioid users are addicts and some patients have increased quality of life from its appropriate use.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports,

“It is estimated that more than 100 million people suffer from chronic pain in this country, and for some of them, opioid therapy may be appropriate. The bulk of American patients who need relief from persistent, moderate-to-severe non-cancer pain have back pain.”

What is an opioid and how does it effect the body? NIDA explains it this way,

Opioids include drugs such as OxyContin and Vicodin that are mostly prescribed for the treatment of moderate to severe pain.  They act by attaching to specific proteins called opioid receptors, which are found on nerve cells in the brain, spinal cord, gastrointestinal tract, and other organs in the body.  When these drugs attach to their receptors, they reduce the perception of pain and can produce a sense of well-being; however, they can also produce drowsiness, mental confusion, nausea, and constipation.”

Knowing about this “national epidemic,” as Time Magazine calls it, is the first step, but what is being done about it? The FDA has been lacking by approving pharmaceuticals without long-term data to see the effect it has on an individual, and doctors are being too liberal in writing the scripts.

NPR reports on a written statement by the CMS which discussed how opioid abuse is a priority for the Trump administration.

“We are working with patients, physicians, health insurance plans and states to improve how opioids are prescribed by health care providers and used by patients, how opioid use disorder is diagnosed and managed, and how alternative approaches to pain management could be promoted,” the agency said.

Look out for symptoms in yourself, friends, and family of opioid abuse, such as mood swings, irritability, and depression. If you suspect abuse, become educated on the topic, then approach the individual with your concerns. Try not to use blaming language, and offer tools for recovery such as rehab or therapists. If these don’t incite change, put your foot down with consequences for their continued use.

It’s ultimately the responsibility of the user to stop abusing opioids, but we can offer loved ones a helping hand. Recognizing this epidemic is already putting this nation towards a healthier tomorrow.