Opioids are used all over the world to relieve pain. They range from oxycodone and hydrocodone, which are mild or moderate in concentration, to the highly-concentrated fentanyl. When taken, they induce drowsiness, sedating the person to get their bodies to rest. However, opioids also induce psychoactive tendencies in the person, which has led to their use as a recreational drug and they are now sold illegally. Over the last couple of years, the number of deaths from prescription opioids has increased by thousands in the States. This represents a crisis on the hands of the healthcare industry. Although there have been many questions raised on healthcare policy and distribution practices, there is a need for serious reform in order to defeat the opioid crisis. Reports from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have shown that from 2015 to 2016, there has been an increase of 21% in deaths caused by opioid consumption. As a result, the opioid crisis has now been termed a national epidemic by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
How Did It Happen?
One of the major reasons for the opioid endemic is the healthcare system itself. Because of how it is designed to operate, people end up receiving opioids instead of the therapeutic treatments that can be used instead. Often, it is therapy that these patients need, but they end up walking out with a bottle of painkillers. This is because opioids are cheaper and easier to administer than therapy. Due to this, the States suffers from a rate of 40% of opioid prescriptions, which is way higher than Germany or Canada. Another reason intrinsically tied to the healthcare system is the practices of physicians. It has been found that physicians are prescribing opioids for pain related to surgery or after an injury. These direct ways of receiving opioids is turning people into addicts and by the time physicians stop prescribing them, their patients are already dependent on them and seek them out from illegal means.
New Measures to Combat Opioid Misuse
From 2018, the healthcare industry is taking the frontrunner position on reforming its practices and working with other agencies to offer alternative treatments to chronic pain and to facilitate those who are in remission from opioid addiction.
- The first measure is the identification of certain behaviors and health conditions that might suggest addiction. The states in America that have shown the highest numbers of opioid addiction are being dispatched naloxone which, if administered in the early stages of addiction, can halt its development. There are also collaborative measures being taken at a community level to ensure that the affected receive treatment and that the opioid crisis can be fought from the ground up while ensuring the health of the population.
- Aetna, a health insurance company, is offering state-wide assistance to task forces battling opioid abuse and working with physicians to increase communication with patients and finding other ways to treat their pain. The company has introduced a 5-year plan that claims to alleviate chronic pain by revisiting how it is treated, reducing opioid dependence and increasing physical therapy for patients to prevent addiction.
- One of the measures that can have a huge impact on access to opioids is reducing its circulation. However, this will require extra measures that need to be assessed and reassessed. However, the risk of opioid addition is very high. Research suggests that around 1 in 4 people prescribed opioids for pain relief will have some issues with addiction. CVS Caremark is an organization that is working to see whether physicians are prescribing more opioids than they should be and is also working on adding restrictions to limit opioid consumption.