When and where does opioid abuse start? A new study has found that most American teenagers can trace their addiction back to the first time they were prescribed opioids by their doctor. The study found a that a majority of teens who abuse prescription drugs such as OxyContin and Vicodin had been prescribed the pills at some point in their past. The now-proven link between those who have been prescribed these medications for pain in the past and the higher chance they have of abusing them later in life can help doctors keep a watchful eye on patients and educate them and their guardians on the risks and statistics of abuse. Infinite Recovery explores this progression in opioid addiction in this week’s blog, The Evolution of the American Opioid Epidemic.
“In 2012 there were 259 million prescriptions written for opioids, which is enough to provide every American adult with a bottle of opioid pills,” the American Society of Addiction Medicine says. The argument here is not to say that physicians should stop prescribing opioids all together, but rather make sure that the process of giving these teens prescription drugs is well monitored, that everyone is fully educated on the dangers of opioid addiction, and that a proper balance is found between treating these patients who are often in serious pain and reducing the possible damage that can come from abusing these drugs.
This is in stark contrast to the old perception of opioid abuse in America. In the 1900’s, opioids and even heroin were thought to have a high potential for benefit and low potential for dependency. The United States witnessed the first wave of the opioid epidemic and regulated opioids in the 1914 Harrison Narcotics Act in hopes of stopping this addictive crisis. Fast forward to the Vietnam War, and our country experienced a second wave with soldiers bringing body bags full of heroin onto American soil. Soon after in the 1970’s, the “wonder drugs” Vicodin and Percocet were introduced into the U.S. prescription market and widespread availability swept the nation. Ever since then, Americans have consistently been introduced to opioids in the form of prescriptions, and more often than not users graduated to the cheaper, more potent, deadlier high of heroin.
Sean McCabe, a research professor at the University of Michigan, who authored this study of the link between prescribed use of opioids and the later chance of nonprescribed opioid use, has come up with some excellent ideas to possibly combat the risk of future abuse. He suggests that doctors should be sure to limit the number of refills they offer to clients, to prescribe the lowest effective dose of the medication, and supplement that with milder pain medication, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, and that parents be sure to properly discard any leftover pills.
When taken at the prescribed amount and during the correct length of time, opioid pain killers can be incredibly helpful for those suffering immense pain. This is not to discount their helpfulness for those who truly need them, but rather to inform others of the risks that can come with using too much for too long, especially in a person’s developmental years. Parents should openly talk to their children and inform them of the dangers of prescription opioid abuse, and set clear boundaries and expectations for their children. The drug talk can be seen as uncomfortable or awkward, but it is an important first step in battling drug addiction and trying to put a halt to this awful opioid epidemic.