Opioids. The very word can strike fear into a medical practitioner’s heart nowadays. While they are certainly an effective tool for managing pain in the short term, the dangers of extended use are causing serious problems in our country, not only in the medical industry, but the fields of criminal justice, mental health, economics, even the arena of marriage and family is being negatively impacted by the epidemic of opioid abuse and addiction.
Over one quarter of patients who are prescribed opioids will misuse them at some point. That is a huge number of people who risk addiction, not only to the prescribed medication, but to street drugs like heroin and fentanyl, which many turn to when they are unable to obtain pills legally any longer. The patients who transition from legally prescribed medication to heroin not only cause the drug crime rates to rise, but also endanger their employment and earning potential, as well as their health and social standing.
The politicians spout rhetoric and threaten stricter drug laws, but cutting the number of pills one can prescribe a patient with an abuse or addiction problem is not going to solve their problem. If anything, it may further speed them down the path to criminal activity when their addiction or withdrawal symptoms become too much to bear without the amount of medication they had before.
“The statistics are indeed scary. But, while politicians debate actionable solutions, doctors are seeing the very real faces of this epidemic,” says family physician, Dr. Linda Girgis. “And that face is not a nameless statistic but rather faces of patients affected, of parents who have lost children and children who have lost parents. We see the fall-out of families destroyed and those left mourning. This addiction is not limited to any socioeconomic status or race. It does not discriminate in who it holds in its grasp but affects all races, genders, ages, and economic classes.”
Certainly the media, government, and medical workers have increased the public’s awareness of this epidemic, but to what end? Being aware of the problem doesn’t help the patients who need in-patient care but can’t afford it, or whose insurance doesn’t cover it. Shaming people who become addicted to their medication doesn’t change the fact that they are in now physical and emotional pain, and that they never set out to be addicts. But can we make a difference?
Earlier this year, Physician’s Weekly and Sermo jointly conducted a poll of almost 1500 doctors, asking them if they were confident that any intervention could be effective at this point, either by the government or by the medical community. A staggering 63% of doctors have lost confidence that there can be any useful response to this epidemic in America. Only 13% had real hope that some response, from Washington D.C. or from healthcare providers, could make an impact. If we, who see the most fallout from the opioid crisis don’t believe there is a solution, how can anyone else?
Laws regulating prescriptions may prevent future addiction, but they do not help people who are already in its grips. There have been promises of federal funds being earmarked for treatment services, but it has not reached the patients most in need, and may not be able to reach many who are now operating outside the reach of the medical and insurance industry. The government working to ban helpful alternative remedies and herbal products that help many addicts, may be pushing people who have used those things to break free right back to their addictions. People can not wait for politics to ease their suffering, they can not wait for legislation to mandate actual, helpful care, their lives are in danger now.
At Emerald Coast Medical association, we are concerned about laws and legislation that impact not only doctors and health care workers, but also our patients. We do our best to keep our members informed of pending legislation that would impact us or them, and encourage the group to use our numbers to communicate the needs of the medical realm to lawmakers, both at the state and federal level. Separately, it’s hard to make a difference, but collectively we can brainstorm ideas on how to not only affect change but implement those changes in a meaningful way. Click below to learn more about the benefits of membership, and how you can join us for our next meeting.