Opioid use and overdoses continue to make headlines. But even with the more recent push for better awareness, usage is still on the rise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two out of three drug overdose deaths involve an opioid.
How did it get to this point where the use of opioids has become an epidemic? Opioids have been around for a while. In the 1990s there was a surge in their utilization with the development of new synthetic opioids (as opposed to natural opioids like heroin). These new synthetic opioids were touted as being less addictive. This was later shown to be incorrect and is now the genesis of many of the successful lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies.
In addition, there was an unrealistic expectation that patients should never feel pain – and if they did experience it, the provider wasn’t treating it appropriately. At the time, opioids weren’t thought of as dangerous; rather they were thought of as the answer to ending pain.
Today, we’re finding ways to reduce the flow. Here are steps providers and patients can take to address the opioid epidemic:
- Providers need to become educated about the addictive nature of opioids. It’s also important to thoroughly assess each patient before starting medication to understand his or her unique risk. This can help determine how closely a patient needs to be monitored or if it might be best to avoid opioid medication altogether. Providers also need to limit both the dose and length of time a patient is on opioid medication. Studies have consistently demonstrated that any exposure to opioids after surgery carries a risk for long-term use of opioids. This risk has a significant increase after just 10 days of therapy.
- Patients also have a responsibility to become educated on the pros and cons of taking opioid medication. It’s important to take a close look at yourself and weigh the risk. While opioid medications are sometimes necessary, there are also other options for improving and managing pain long term, including non-opioid medications and integrative medicine [LINK to chronic pain management article]. You may decide that opioid medication isn’t necessary after all.
Edward-Elmhurst Health is addressing the opioid crisis in a number of different ways. We’ve established specific guidelines that direct providers on using opioids in a safe manner. We believe this will lead to a significant reduction in opioids being administered within the health system. We’re involved in research and looking at ways we can collaborate with other community organizations to address opioid usage and find more ways to help people affected by this epidemic.