How Opioid Medication Became the Only Prescribed Pain Treatment
Although it's impossible to escape news of the opioid epidemic, we haven't heard the whole story.
At Progressive Care, I've met patients from all walks of life and witnessed firsthand the caustic consequences of opioid misuse and abuse. The opioid epidemic is a deeply emotional and complicated issue.
In this three-part series, we'll explore the causes, obstacles, and solutions to the over-prescribing of opioid medications.
Join us as Progressive Care, along with their wholly owned subsidiary, PharmCo, LLC, leads the charge to develop actionable solutions along with pain management alternatives to opioids.
What caused the opioid crisis?
In the 1990s, pharmaceutical manufacturers convinced doctors that opioids were safe, non-habit forming, and effective at treating nearly every type of pain. Doctors – who were being pressured by pharmaceutical reps and patients to treat pain quickly – began writing prescriptions for opioids as a catch-all pain reliever. Soon, medication intended for treating severe acute pain was being used to treat all pain.
Adding to the problem, patients were provided with much of the medication. In many cases, post-surgical pain could be treated with no more than a seven-day supply of a low-dose opioid, yet doctors were writing initial prescriptions for 30 days. Having a 30-day supply in the home when the patient needed only a 4 to 7-day supply led to two major problems: abuse and diversion.
Many patients with short-term pain from injuries or surgeries would take opioid medication for the full 30 days because they thought that’s what was needed or what they were supposed to do.
It only takes five days to become addicted to opioids. Within 30 days, an opioid tolerance can be built.
This resulted in patients building up a tolerance, becoming addicted, and abusing opioids to treat pain even if that pain no longer existed or was significantly reduced.
Patients who did not take the full 30-day supply were left with extra pills. This provided them with the opportunity to abuse, misuse, and/or divert these pills by giving them away, selling them, or simply leaving them unsecured for use by others.
This is how the medication proliferated outside of the medical setting. With demand rising, drug dealers answered by securing fraudulent prescriptions and selling the pills. Many doctors and pharmacies were accomplices in schemes to release more and more prescription opiates onto the streets.
Now here we are. We have millions of patients who are now opioid tolerant, dependent, and addicted.
115 people die every day from overdose because of opioid abuse.
While the government and medical community crack down on opioid access to prevent illicit use and overdose, we are left with the more complicated problem: How do we treat pain now?
Why is pain difficult to treat?
Pain is subjective. Doctors spend hours consulting with patients and doing in-depth research to determine the probable source of pain and the appropriate treatment for it.
This is a big reason why prescribing opioids was so welcomed by the physician community. Opioids took all the time, effort, and energy out of treating pain.
There is a profound expectation among patients that pain relief should be immediate and complete. The goal in many of these cases should be to restore or preserve patient functionality and quality of life, knowing full well that some pain may have to be tolerated by the patient.
That is a disheartening concept for a patient; the notion that if we feel pain, there may be nothing that makes it go away completely.
What can be done now for a patient who is opioid dependent? This is the hardest part of solving the epidemic: to go back to where it all began and figure out a way to restore functionality to a patient in pain from a lasting condition without opioids, or with a significantly reduced dose.
At Progressive Care and PharmCo, we are aware of the challenges in treating opioid addiction and dependency. We know that more can be done to manage pain more and restore functionality and quality of life to millions of patients who are running out of options.
NEXT WEEK: Our Two Biggest Obstacles to Solving the Opioid Epidemic