By: Leah Howard
One of the most important reasons for this trend could be the lax prescription drug policies by medical professionals. Medical professionals commonly prescribe opioids for routine and common pain. Many clinicians argue that these medications are extremely beneficial and could be used to treat pain without risk of addiction. Claims such as these made by pharmaceutical companies and doctors across the nation have been since proven false. However, opioid painkillers such as OxyContin, Percocet, and Vicodin have become the most prescribed drugs in the country, producing about $2 billion a year in sales.
The stance on opioid prescription is changing. According to CDC director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, it is obvious now more than ever that the risk of opioid usage outweighs the benefits and that prescription opioids are just as addictive as heroin. In response, the federal government has intervened by putting in place guidelines that make it harder to obtain access to these drugs. Now, doctors must first try to treat patients with ibuprofen and aspirin. In addition, opioid treatment can only last for one to three days, in contrast with past practices in which patients were given weeks and months worth of prescription opioid medication. This change has led to a subsequent rise in illicit heroin use. Since the crackdown on drugs, it is now easier and cheaper to purchase heroin.
Naloxone works by reversing the effects of heroin. Heroin is effective because it locks on to the receptors in the brain, but in high enough doses slows the body and alters breathing. Naloxone can free the receptors, establishing normal breathing and restoring consciousness. The drug was approved in 1971 and has been used ever since.
On Tuesday March 29th, President Obama came to Atlanta in order to attend the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit on the current drug abuse epidemic. The President highlighted the rise in deaths by reminding the panel that now, more people are being killed from opioid overdoses than traffic accidents. He also debuted a new rule in which doctors would be able to prescribe Buprenorphine, a medication used to treat drug addition, to those addicted to drugs, which would increase the number of patients a doctor is able to see. In addition, President Obama also highlighted his new $94 million federally funded plan to expand medical treatment at over 270 community health centers nationwide, and $11 million funding that allows states to buy Naloxone.
There are some major local and national efforts being made to control the ever growing drug problem. However, other countries are taking prevention a step further. Canada and Europe have designated injection facilities in which people can inject drugs under medical supervision. Facilities like these are illegal in the United States, but it may be time we reconsider.