By now, you’ve probably heard about the opioid epidemic. Why is it called an “epidemic”?
Did you know that 42,249 people died of an opioid overdose in 2016? That means, 116 people died from an opioid overdose EACH DAY. To put that number into context, 37,461 people died from car crashes in 2016, or 102 people per day.
Aside from the tragic loss of life and the scarred family members and friends left behind, the opioid epidemic also comes at a huge financial cost that we all pay. In fact, estimates of the total “economic burden” (costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement) of prescription opioid misuse in the United States is $78.5 billion per year.
Perhaps the most alarming opioid epidemic statistic is the rate at which the problem has gotten worse. Over the past seven years, opioid use disorder diagnoses have increased 500%, and from July 2016 – September 2017, opioid overdoses increased 30% across the US.
What can you do to protect yourself and your family from the opioid epidemic?
How can you protect yourself and your loved ones from becoming one of these statistics? Here are some tips to help you:
1. Understand what opioids are and that opioid addiction usually starts with LEGAL medical prescriptions.
What is an “opioid”? The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines opioids as, “a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, morphine, and many others.”
As you may have heard from various media reports, one of the main drivers of the opioid epidemic stems from legal, prescription synthetic opioids that can be highly addictive, despite prior misleading statements to the contrary by pharmaceutical companies. That’s why 75% of heroin abusers (an illegal opioid) report that their addiction started with a legal opioid prescription from a doctor!
This is one of the reasons why Nevada, like many other states, recently passed a law placing much greater restrictions on doctors writing and maintaining opioid prescriptions, as the Las Vegas Review Journal recently reported.
2. Understand the factors that can cause you to become addicted to opioids.
Addiction is complex. One person who takes an opioid may become addicted almost immediately, whereas another person may not become addicted over a prolonged use period (such as when using a prescription opioid).
A multitude of factors result in these differences, including:
- the potency of the particular opioid used
- the amount used
- use frequency
- dosage increase between uses
- genetic susceptibility
- your body’s ability to metabolize the drug
- other substances used with opiates
- underlying psychological conditions (depression, anxiety, etc.)
- environmental factors
It’s important to keep in mind that it can take anywhere from a few days to a few months before you
begin craving the euphoric high that you get when taking opiates, even if you are taking it as prescribed.
3. Be mindful of your Rx dosage and make sure your doctor is too!
Given that most opioid addiction starts with legal opioids prescribed by doctors, it’s especially important for both patients and medical professionals to exercise extreme caution at the doctor’s office.
Here’s a fairly typical scenario describing how opioid addiction often starts:
- You go to the doctor’s office because you hurt your back.
- The doctor gives you an opioid prescription for the pain, and warns you about the dangers.
- You take the medication as prescribed for a week, but what you didn’t know was that the dosage was just a little too high for your metabolism. So, by the end of the week you are starting to count down the minutes until your next pill, and you feel like one just isn’t enough anymore, so you take two every once in awhile when you need it.
- A week later, you’re in a hurry because you’re running late for work, so you forget to take your opioid pain medicine. You tell yourself you can handle the pain at least until lunch. Little did you know, you have started becoming dependent on the medication so you’re sweating, fatigued and a bit irritable.
- You make it home at lunch to take your pill. Your back is in far more pain than usual because you missed your morning pill, so you take twice the dose just to make sure it’s effective.
- Already, in just two weeks, you have become dependent on opiates and you’re going to have to go through withdrawal to stop… if you stop.
To be clear, if the dosage is appropriate for your body type, genetics, and the medical condition for which you’re being treated, then opioid addiction is not necessarily the outcome. We’re simply suggesting that you and your doctor exercise extreme caution up front and throughout your use cycle, rather than trying to address a life-threatening addiction down the road.
Healthcare providers bear a special responsibility and need to be exercise extreme discretion when prescribing opioid medications.
Often, doctors see their patients in pain and their natural reaction is to help them. What’s best for the patient’s recovery? A physical therapy program? Non-opioid pain medications?
If, after careful consideration, you do prescribe opioids for your patient, keep in mind that studies have shown that despite the temporary, extra discomfort some patients might feel with a smaller dosage of pain medication, many patients are better off with a lower dose.
Healthcare providers can take multiple precautions to help reduce the likelihood of opioid addiction in their patients. Some of those precautions include:
- Use alternative methods for pain management (yoga, acupuncture, physical therapy, etc.)
- Prescribe non-opioid medications
- Prescribe fewer opiates at a lower dosage
- Educate patients on the risks of taking medications
- Identify those most vulnerable to addiction
The more that patients and doctors are aware of the risks opioid addiction and work together, the more likely we are to reverse the terrible trends of the opioid epidemic. Each of us has a role to play in fighting the opioid epidemic.
Please do your part by knowing and sharing this important information!
Are you or someone you love experiencing an opioid addiction and in need of help?
If you or a family member in Las Vegas or Southern Nevada are suffering from an opioid addiction, we’re here to help you today.