American Prescription Drug Epidemic 3
Back To The Future Solutions to the Prescription Drug Epidemic
The news surrounding the prescription drug epidemic isn’t all bad. In 2015, prescriptions for narcotic pain killers dropped for the first time since the introduction of OxyContin in 1996. Such news is evidence that the medical community is not only aware of the problem of prescription drug abuse, but that it is actively taking steps to address the problem. Flags have gone up in other communities as well. From non-profit organizations to government entities, a concerted effort is being made to curb the prescription drug epidemic and reverse the trend before it gets any worse.
Health care providers have long been aware of the abuse potential of many of the medications they use to legitimately treat medical conditions and best practices have been established to guide them in the use of such drugs. Until recently, however, many providers did not see much necessity in implementing those best practices. As rates of addiction have skyrocketed and providers are increasingly being held accountable for their prescribing habits, however, a greater number of individuals and institutions have begun to follow strict guidelines for the use of potentially addictive medications. Such guidelines include:
- Prescribing medications in limited quantities and for limited periods of time,
- Tracking the types and quantities of medications prescribed to a particular patient by all of his or her health care providers in an effort to reduce “doctor shopping” and unintentional over-prescription,
- Having frequent follow-ups to assess for potential dependence or addiction, and
Implementing “narcotic contracts” and other binding agreements with patients who require long-term pain management or who will otherwise be taking medications with high potential for abuse.
Because the epidemic is costing not just lives, but hundreds of millions of dollars, various legislative measures have been enacted to address the problem. In Massachusetts, for instance, a bill has been passed that drastically limits the quantity of opioid pain killers that can be prescribed to patients taking them for the first time. By reducing the total number of pills that can be prescribed to “opioid-naïve” individuals, the bill aims to reduce the onset of addiction in potentially vulnerable populations. This bill not only places a direct limit on prescribing, but raises awareness about the seriousness of the epidemic and forces anyone involved in the administration of narcotics (e.g. doctors, nurses, pharmacists, etc.) to reconsider the potential risks and benefits of the medications.
A number of community groups, like the National Coalition Against Prescription Drug Abuse and Mothers Against Prescription Drug Abuse, are working to educate the public about the risks associated with prescription drugs. In particular, these community outreach programs seek to educate people about the number one source for prescription drugs of abuse – friends and family.
Between 1991 and 2009, prescriptions for opioid pain killers increased from 45 million to nearly 180 million, meaning that there are roughly four times as many prescription pain killers sitting in medicine cabinets and on bedside tables than there were twenty years ago. This presents opportunity for abuse and explains a good part of the statistic that shows that roughly 70% of people get prescription drugs from friends of family (either for free or by stealing them). By reducing the “environmental availability” of prescription drugs, community groups seek to reduce or eliminate the single largest source of prescription drug abuse.
Just as the causes of the prescription drug abuse epidemic are complex, so too are the solutions multi-pronged. With efforts from the health care community, the government, and concerned citizens, the epidemic can not only be halted, but reversed. What is more, because prescription medications often serve as gateway drugs for their illicit counterparts, addressing the prescription drug epidemic should help to reduce the larger heroin and narcotic problems the country is currently facing.