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The Dangerous Realities of America's Dependence on Prescriptions

Prescription dependency in the U.S. has climbed steadily over the last two decades. Due to loose regulations for the prescription of opioid drugs in the pharmaceutical industry, many people are prescribed opioids who could be otherwise treated. Even when opioids are the appropriate course of treatment, many patients are not given enough warning about the potential risk for addiction. The liberal prescription of opioids for minor injuries and pain has resulted in an opioid epidemic that has caused severe consequences for millions of Americans.

In 2017, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency and released a five-point plan to address the opioid epidemic. Although Americans make up only 4% of the world population, almost 30% of fatal drug overdoses occur in the U.S. Of these, about 50% are the result of opioid overuse.


Prescription Dependency in the U.S.

Some of the most commonly prescribed drugs to treat pain include oxycodone, hydrocodone, and fentanyl. These drugs are often used to treat pain post-surgery, as well as for short-term pain from broken bones and intense, long-term pain from diseases like cancer. During these times, treating pain is crucial, as the body is unable to heal or cope without getting relief from the pain to let it rest. The necessity of treating pain is one reason many doctors freely prescribe opioids.

Although there are various ways to treat different sources of pain, the pharmaceutical industry encourages the prescription of opioids. Any type of doctor can prescribe opioids to a patient, and there are hardly any restrictions for the level of pain a patient must be in to receive a prescription for opioids. While many doctors recognize that opioid prescriptions can be dangerous and address the risk of addiction with their patient, others are not always as careful.

Unfortunately, addiction is more likely in certain at-risk groups. The University of Southern California cited data from the American Society of Addiction Medication stating, "Adolescents and young adults are among the highest groups at risk for drug addiction. In 2015, more than a quarter of a million adolescents in the U.S. were currently using pain medications that were not prescribed to them, and 122,000 of those adolescents reported having an addiction."

Veterans are also an at-risk group for drug addiction and overdose. Many veterans have suffered injuries that resulted in the need for chronic pain treatment, as well as mental health factors that make them more susceptible to opioid addiction. At-risk groups often fall short in their health literacy or basic knowledge surrounding their health and how to maintain it. These individuals generally don't realize the risks and consequences of succumbing to opioid addiction.

Dangerous Consequences of Dependency

Some of the individuals who use opioids to treat chronic pain stay in control of their use. However, even when the individuals using opioids are not necessarily abusing the drug, opioid dependency can be incredibly risky for those using them regularly. Addiction is always a risk, but even dependency can put a lot of strain on a person's professional life, their personal relationships, and can make it difficult for them to take care of themselves.

This could potentially be remedied with better healthcare, as people would have access to alternative treatment options, such as physical therapy, relaxation therapy, massage therapy, and meditation. Although these treatments are sometimes better at addressing chronic pain than opioids, they require more resources, including instructors or therapists to conduct the services, which is less cost-efficient for healthcare companies than prescription medications.

The constant use of opioids can also result in other dangers. Some individuals are lulled into a fall sense of security by their constant use of opioids, and believe that they are capable of conducting life normally even when on drugs. This could result in impaired driving by someone on prescription painkillers, which could have life-endangering consequences for anyone sharing the road with them.

Although it's not quite the same as driving drunk, a person's senses are not as keen when they are on opioids. Opioids are used to alter the sensations a person feels and to relax them enough to dull the pain. However, the instructions on prescription opioids are very clear. When taking them, a person should not operate any type of heavy machinery.

For people who experience a chronic illness that results in pain, new wearable medical devices could potentially help manage their illness and prevent accidents. These devices can be used to help doctors monitor a patient's vitals, which could be life saving in many cases. They could also help doctors monitor a patient's need for prescription painkillers. Doctors can use these devices to gauge how much a person's body is affected by pain, which could help them figure out the best course of treatment for their specific circumstances.

Many people don't realize the dangerous realities of prescription painkiller dependency. Often times, medical professionals don't realize the hand they have in this either. Addiction can have many severe consequences on a person's life, including death. However, even when a person is only dependent on drugs to manage their pain, they are still at risk and could develop diseases related to drug dependency.

When a person truly needs prescription painkillers, they should be apprised of the risks, and given the resources they need to use the drugs as safely as possible. However, alternative courses of treatment should be used whenever possible to avoid adding to the cycle of drug dependency in the U.S.

Posted by Magnolia at June 10, 2019 7:16 PM
Comments
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No doubt, Pharmaceutical companies also influence what doctors prescribe, and many physicians receive gifts and payments from manufacturers of opioids and this increases the likelihood that they will prescribe opioids to their patients.

In some cases, profits from opioid sales was the primary motivator.

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