“For such potent, addictive medications the only acceptable percentage in each of these categories would have been “zero.” The same goes for the number of overdose deaths.”
-Editorial Board, The Washington Post
New data was released from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on the number of overdose deaths reported in 2015. The grim reality is that overdose deaths last year have reached an all-time high at 52,404 in 2015 and opioids are the driving factor of these deaths. About 80 percent of these deaths were caused by the misuse of opioids, including legal prescriptions (the largest portion of opioid deaths).
Where is the problem? For many years, both doctors and patients were led to believe that opioids are far less addictive than we now know them to be. These highly addictive medications in many cases are being prescribed as a first-line treatment option and even in conjunction with anti-anxiety or anti-depressants. Both of these prescribing practices, co-prescribing and prescribing as a first-line treatment, are highly discouraged by the CDC’s latest guidelines. In fact, the CDC cautions doctors that opioids should only be prescribed in small amounts, after non-opioid alternatives have been tried and encourages doctors to monitor the effectiveness and signs of misuse and addiction in their patients.
According to data gathered by the Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation, one of the most comprehensive polls of long-term opioid users ever conducted;
38 percent of respondents, reported that no alternative treatments were even discussed with or presented to them. Another large amount of the respondents, 35 percent, reported that the risk of addiction was never cautioned and 30 percent said the side effects were not disclosed.
The article also revealed how some use their medications, and it’s not to manage pain…
- 15 percent of patients reported passing their prescriptions to family or friends.
- Participants said they sometimes use their prescribed pain medication…
- to get high (34 percent)
- to relieve stress (22 percent)
- to relax (12 percent)
Something we hear often from long-time users is that these medications are needed in order to function normally again. Although we certainly do not discount the benefits that some chronic pain patients have experienced, the poll did glean information related to long-time opioid users and work.
“Only 23 percent of them work full-time, while 30 percent are on disability – hardly support for the claim that opioids help those with chronic pain resume normal functioning.”
You can read the full article by Clicking Here.
A summary of the data collected from the CDC WONDER database are below:
- According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids rose from 28,647 in 2014 to 33,091 in 2015.
- Heroin overdose deaths rose from 10,574 in 2014 to 12,990 in 2015, an increase of 23 percent.
- Overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone rose from 5,544 in 2014 to 9,580 in 2015, an increase of 73 percent. This category of opioids is dominated by fentanyl-related overdoses, and recent research indicates the fentanyl involved in these deaths is illicitly manufactured, not from medications containing fentanyl.
- Taken together, 19,885 Americans lost their lives in 2015 to deaths involving primarily illicit opioids: heroin, synthetic opioids other than methadone (e.g., fentanyl), or a mixture of the two.
- Overdose deaths involving prescription opioids, excluding the category predominated by illicit fentanyl, rose only slightly from 16,941 in 2014 to 17,536 in 2015, a 4% increase.
It is important to remember that each one of these numbers represents a person that tragically lost their life. And each person lost echoes pain and grief of a family, a friend, a colleague. We must continue advocating for change, both in our state and across the nation. We must continue to prevent overdoses and provide accessibility for the tools and training our communities so desperately need. We must continue educating our medical providers how to prescribe responsibly.