If someone told you that the fastest growing drug problem in the United States was legal, would you believe them?
Prescription drug abuse is an ever pressing problem in the United States. It is estimated that there are “2.1 million people in the United States suffering from substance abuse disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers…” the National Institute on Drug Abuse said.
This trend has seen another spike in fatal overdoses in 2014 from 41,340 to 47,055 people, according to the Center for Disease Control.
Additionally the impact on youth is concerning, who are at risk of gaining access to prescription drugs at any time. A survey done by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) found that 1 in 12 high school seniors reported non-medical use of Vicodin and 1 in 20 reported abusing OxyContin.
The problem is access. Prescription drugs can be taken from your home via medicine cabinets, purses, and any other location where medications are left unattended. It’s that easy.
Yes, access contributes significantly to the problem, but it’s not the only concern. Easy access would not be as big of an issue if medications were not readily available, thus excess amount of unused or expired medications lay waiting to be abused.
A study released by Stanford Medicine found that most prescriptions of opioid painkillers are made out by general practitioners. These findings challenge previous studies that indicated that the opioid epidemic was, “perpetuated by a small population of prolific prescribers operating under corrupt pill mills,” the report said.
Family practices prescribed the most Schedule II opioids in 2013 at 15.3 million prescriptions. The practitioners that followed were 12.8 million by internal medicine, 4.1 million by nurse practitioners and lastly, physician’s assistants at 3.1 million prescriptions, the report said.
Like reducing access problems, over prescribing can be limited, too. One approach suggests having practitioners sign a letter to pledge to avoid prescribing antibiotic medicine when it was likely to do more harm than good. Those who signed this commitment letter reduced unnecessary prescriptions by about one fifth during the period of intervention.
This approach was intended to see how to reduce the $70.4 million in drug costs nationwide. But if it works to help curtail the quantity of medications prescribed by practitioners, it could also be used as a method to help the opioid crisis by way of less unnecessary prescriptions.
The CDC calls for a similar approach from practitioners in taking a much more conservative method when prescribing medications to their patients. One of their recommendations is for doctors to prescribe alternative means of pain relief such as physical therapy, before they turn to medications.
Even though the United States is faced with this growing problem, there are options. Reducing access and more conservative approaches from practitioners can help reduce availability, while awareness and advocacy can change perceptions of the lack of harm. Reducing access and saving lives starts at the source, in the doctor’s office. So let’s stop “over” prescribing and just prescribe carefully.
Click here to learn more about the prescription drug abuse problem in Idaho and ways you can help in your community.