There has been a lot of controversy over the last few years about the risks and benefits of opioid painkillers as well as how they are used in treating chronic pain. It is important to note, however, that this does not include certain patients such as those diagnosed with cancer or those who are undergoing end-of-life care. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, opioid abuse is a serious public health issue with drug overdose deaths being the leading cause of injury death in the United States. Opioid addiction statistics point to some chilling trends. It was reported that in 2012 over 259 million prescriptions for opioid pain medication were written, which is enough for every adult in the United States to have their own bottle. This is one reason why the CDC is concerned with an opioid epidemic in the U.S.

Opioid addiction statistics in the U.S.

Opioid pain medications are drugs that interact with the opioid receptors on nerve cells in the brain and nervous system. This class of drugs include pain meds such as hydrocodone, morphine, and fentanyl. This interaction generally produces a pleasurable effect that relieves pain as well as produces other side effects such as dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and constipation.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine released some facts and figures this year that shows a telling story of how opioids have affected the United States in the last two decades. Some of these stats include:

  • Four out of five new heroin users started out misusing prescription painkillers. This led to heroin overdose deaths quadrupling from 2000 to 2013.
  • Among women, the overdose death rate for prescription pain medication from 1999 to 2010 increased more than 400%. Between 2010 and 2013, female heroin overdoses tripled to 1.2 per 100,000 people.
  • In one survey, 94% of people receiving treatment for opioid addiction said they chose heroin over prescription drugs because prescription drugs were far more expensive and harder to get.
  • Adults are not the only ones affected by opioid addiction. In 2014, 467,000 adolescents were using painkillers for something other than medical reasons with 168,000 having an addiction. It was discovered that most adolescents who misused prescription opioids obtained them free from friends or relatives.

The Centers for Disease Control’s take on opioids for pain management

According to the CDC, since 1999, opioid prescription have quadrupled and over 165,000 people have died due to prescription opioids. In 2014 alone, 14,000 people died from overdoses involving prescription opioids.

Stats like these are why the CDC finalized new opioids guidelines for medical providers in March of 2016. The new guidelines were created to curtail the abundance of opioids being prescribed to patients, especially those that are given before other non-opioid treatments are tried. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Doctors should try non-pharmacological treatment options before moving to painkillers. This is especially true for those who suffer from chronic pain.
  • Before opioid therapy, physicians should establish treatments goals with realistic goals and a plan to discontinue opioid use.
  • Doctors need to have an initial discussion as well as period check-ins about the realistic risks and rewards of opioid therapy. This should include the responsibilities of both the doctor and patient.
  • To continue opioid therapy, there must be meaningful improvement or demonstration of efficacy of the treatment.
  • Doses should be the lowest possible needed for patient relief and should be immediate-release opioids.
  • Acute pain patients should only receive small quantity prescriptions that last for three days or less.
  • Physicians need to carefully evaluate a patient’s potential for abuse, which includes looking at family history and prior dependency issues.

Opioids and chronic pain patients

Here at Pain Doctor, we feel it is important to reaffirm the fact that most chronic pain patients are not taking opioids to manage their condition. In fact, opioids are not a preferred method of treatment and we mostly use non-pharmacological therapy to help our patients find relief. If opioids are necessary, we use a 12-step compliance checklist to assure the safety and continued improvement of our patients.

Today, approximately 5% of chronic pain suffers use opioids for pain. However, the number of people using them for chronic pain management have decreased significantly since 2010. This can mostly be attributed to new research findings and stricter government controls on prescription opioids. Also keep in mind that opioids users are closely monitored by physicians and only use pain medication as part of an overall treatment plan rather than as a quick fix.

Given new research and controls, the medical community is looking for alternative treatment options to help manage chronic pain. This is partly due to the fact that research has shown that opioid use is less effective for managing chronic pain in the long term as well as the risk of addiction and abuse is cause for concern.

Finding help for opioid addiction

If you or a loved one is suffering from an opioid addiction, there are many programs available to provide help. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) along with the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) provide numerous resources that can assist you in finding local treatment options.

Many of these resources are open 24/7 and can provide information about addiction as well as possible treatment options near you. They can also provide support to people who are trying to help their loved ones through an opioid addiction. Some of these include:

What are your thoughts on current opioid addiction statistics?

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