Opioid crisis: Addiction to pain pills is growing around the world
The Heat

The U.S. opioid epidemic began nearly three years ago after pharmaceutical companies introduced what they promised would be a less addictive form of opioid. Last month, a federal judge ordered the release of a federal database that details how pharma companies saturated the market, creating the nation's deadliest drug epidemic. The widespread use of those pills is growing around the world.

Keith Humphreys, professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, said the key factor that has contributed to this opioid crisis is the massive increase in supply. "Whenever a drug becomes extremely available, it is a law of nature that more people will try it and some of them will be harmed by it, including becoming addicted or overdosing or both," said Humphreys.  

"These manufacturers and distributors, Purdue Pharma particularly, lied to the American public. They knew we were getting hooked and they pushed more and more. This is a very well-coordinated systematic attack on American families that involve doctors, pharmacies, and the federal government," said activist Ryan Hampton, a former opioid addict, and author of "American Fix: Inside the Opioid Addiction Crisis - and How to End It."

Hampton thinks that the U.S. is in danger of a massive relapse of the opioid addiction crisis. Unless people start providing solutions for recovery-oriented systems of care from any substance, they are going to keep dealing with another drug crisis every five to six years in this country. Health care system is broken at the heart and it is not prepared to deal with people who are struggling from any substance.

Bradley Stein, senior physician policy researcher at the RAND Corporation, said that the U.S. government is taking a number of steps in terms of passing legislation to increase funding to states into programs to address the problem. However, one of the issues that we need to face is we need a level of investment that is commensurate with the level of the problem, and we don't have it yet. It is important to realize that the availability of treatment for people who are struggling with addiction with opioids is insufficient. People either can't get into the treatment they need or they aren't getting the most effective treatments.

U.S. First Lady Melania Trump arrives during a small group discussion about the opioid crisis, at Cabell-Huntington Health Department in Huntington, U.S., July 8, 2019. /VCG Photo

U.S. First Lady Melania Trump arrives during a small group discussion about the opioid crisis, at Cabell-Huntington Health Department in Huntington, U.S., July 8, 2019. /VCG Photo

Stein thinks that we need to start to stop people from using and misusing opioid pills. Also, we should not just be focused on opioid. There are many different types of drugs that people are struggling with - heroin and fentanyl, for example.

"I think we should really be thinking about how do we restructure our health care system, to address what for many of these individuals is going to be a chronic episodic challenge that they may face for long periods" said Stein.

According to Kate Tulenko, CEO of Corvus Health, some physicians felt obliged to over-prescribe pain medication because some people blame hospital regulators for making pain be a quality metric, and there is no objective way to measure pain. Also, many physicians are compensated according to patient satisfaction. Someone seeking drugs being turned away can affect a physician's score.

Tulenko thinks that we need to think about switching to other forms of pain control and also educating the patients so that they are not demanding and expecting opioid. The U.S. government did release a national chronic pain management plan in 2016. It is to help health workers to work with patients to design better care plans. People would have never prescribed opioids in the first place. Instead, they would get treatments such as physical therapy, hot or cold packs, meditation, and exercise.

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