According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 6.4 million Americans abused controlled prescription drugs. The study shows that a majority of abused prescription drugs were obtained from family and friends, often from the home medicine cabinet.
DEA Take Back Day events provide an opportunity for Americans to prevent drug addiction and overdose deaths. Saturday, April 28, 2018 is national prescription drug take back day. Visit here to find a collection site near you.
According to many reports, the USA contains about 5% of the world’s population and yet consumes more than 80% of the world’s pain killer or “opioid” medications.
How did we get here?
If you don’t have a family member or friend struggling with substance use disorder or work in the field, you may be wondering how did a problem of this magnitude happen? Well the opioid crisis is a good example of the perfect storm – everything that could go wrong did! However, it really started with most people having good intentions.
In the 1980s physicians began to be uncomfortable with so many people being left to suffer with chronic pain. Not only did we have a number of people suffering with well-known pain issues such as spinal stenosis and other back injuries, but as the prevalence of diabetes increased so did the painful complications of diabetes and new diagnosis like fibromyalgia began to emerge. This resulted in approximately 100 million people going to the doctor asking for relief from daily pain. At the same time, a small article appeared in a well-respected medical journal that said in essence those patients who were taking opioids for painful conditions (versus for recreation) had a low probability of becoming addicted. Unfortunately, this was not a rigorous study, but rather just an anecdotal report. But in the context of wanting to provide some relief for all of these people, it was just want we wanted to hear. From that point, the medical, pharmaceutical companies and the FDA declared war on pain.
The FDA fast tracked approval of new pain meds, pharmaceutical companies aggressively developed and marketed new pain meds and doctors and patients were very happy to comply. It seemed like such a noble war that in fact Medicare and Medicaid and the hospital regulatory agencies also began to penalize doctors and hospitals who were leaving patients unsatisfied with their pain control. You can imagine with all of these pressures directed toward this issue how many millions of pain medicine prescriptions were written – in fact while we are 5% of the world’s population, we consume more than 80%of the world’s pain meds. And slowly we realized that we had all gotten it wrong. So very wrong indeed.
Record numbers of deaths from opioids are occurring in our community and nationwide. We have now not only created a large number of accidental addicts, who started and became addicted to opioids for legitimate pain reasons, we also created a tremendous supply of prescription opioids that are now residing in medicine closets and bathroom cabinets everywhere. These half-used bottles are just waiting for a curious teenager or nefarious neighbor to find and use. One of the simplest things we can do to minimize this national crisis is safely discard our unused pain medicines. What you may have used safely to control pain after surgery if used by someone else may start a long-term struggle with addiction…
For those struggling with proper medication management or more invasive addictive behaviors, there is hope and recovery is possible, even probable. Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) is the most evidence-based approach to opioid use disorder. If you or a loved one is struggling with opioid use disorder, visit LookUp’s Opioid Topic Page to learn more.
Credits: A special thanks to Dr. Deborah McMahan (Allen County Health Commissioner), Jerri Lerch (Allen County Drug & Alcohol Consortium), and Megan Fisher (Groups), for their contributions to this article.