The journey through addiction too often begins with a short path through a doctor’s office. More and more people are becoming addicted to opioid pain medication because of a simple prescription written by a family physician for acute pain or injuries.
Studies now show that these drugs are fueling a nationwide epidemic of drug overdose deaths, which is steadily rising from the increased amount of prescriptions written for addictive painkillers. For years, North Carolina law enforcement agencies have been fighting the illegal use of high-powered drugs, but the problem now lies in the legal use of drugs like Vicodin, Oxycodone and Oxycontin.
State officials tried to curb the steady increase of prescription drug use by implementing a controlled substance reporting system, but too many physicians aren’t utilizing the system to its fullest potential, thus prescribing the medications all too often for chronic pain, ignoring the negative consequences of long-term use.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there were between 14-18 drug overdose deaths per 100,000 people in Sampson County in 2014. Mountainous regions of the state have the highest overdose mortality rate, with 18 or more deaths per 100,000. Sampson County agencies have done an excellent job finding and eliminating meth labs across the county, but now need to turn to another drug that is increasingly taking the lives of our citizens.
State and federal officials are now taking a stance and encouraging physicians to prescribe the painkillers less and less. Nearly 97 prescriptions for painkillers were written per 100 people in North Carolina in 2012. That figure was the 13th highest among the 50 states.
Doctors are not 100 percent to blame for this epidemic, but they can, however, work to encourage patients to try other forms of pain management, rather than being so quick to write that prescription for opioid medication. The pain fighting agent in those strong painkillers is the same as the Acetaminophen and Ibuprofen that can be found in over the counter medications like Tylenol or Advil. It’s the opium in the drug that gives the user a euphoric high – leading to the want and need to experience that feeling again, and again.
The dependence begins when a person’s tolerance level increases, leading the user to require more medication to get that same high as the first time they ever used. Unfortunately, even for those who use the medication as prescribed, long-term use of the medication produces that same tolerance and dependency.
The more frivolous the doctors are with prescribing the medication, the easier it is for the users to become addicted and the greater the chance of the accidental overdose deaths. This problem can’t be easily solved by the physicians alone, but through a joint effort between the medical professionals, patients and state and federal government regulations.
Physicians need to be more aware of the dangers of over prescribing the drugs, patients need to be more aware of the dangers in overtaking the drugs and the alternative methods to managing pain and the government needs to find ways to adequately regulate the distribution and acquiring of the medication.
Kristy D. Carter is a writer for The Sampson Independent. She can be reached at 910-592-8137 or by email at [email protected]