Anyone is susceptible to a drug overdose. Anyone! Attempting to wrap one’s head around the opioid addiction epidemic in America can cause one to become apoplectic with rage at the staggering death toll associated with this class of narcotics. After nearly two decades of heightened abuse rates and roughly one hundred people dying each day from a fatal overdose in this country, there are few Americans who don’t know someone who has been touched by an opioid use disorder.
So, how did we find ourselves in this situation. Well, for starters opioid painkiller prescribing practices across the country has been nothing, if not negligent. Americans make up around 5 percent of the global population, but we ingest the vast majority of the prescription opioids global supply. It was not that long ago that you could acquire a prescription opioid for a hangnail. That may seem like a gross exaggeration, but it is not that far off the mark.
Naturally, pain and one’s response to it, is subjective. How you tolerate an injury or chronic ailment is likely to be different from your peers. Since pain is often internal, not even a doctor with high-tech gadgets can quantify the severity of your pain. If you report that your pain, on a scale from one to ten, is a ten—physicians have an obligation to not only take your word on it, but to respond with an effective treatment. Mitigation which usually comes in the form of a prescription opioid. Of course, blind faith in a patient’s honesty is not always the best course of action, as is evident by the crisis we face today.
An Obligation to Help With Addiction
In many cases, patients will exaggerate their pain levels in order to continue receiving prescriptions for a drug that they may not even realize they have become dependent upon. With that in mind, doctors today have had to begin utilizing resources to determine “at risk” patients. Such as, using prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMP) to curb “doctor shopping,” that is visiting multiple doctors to get more of the same drug; performing random drug screens on patients to ensure that other mind-altering substances are not part of the picture; mixing one narcotic with another, or taking too much of a drug, is a sure recipe for an overdose.
One could even argue that doctors have an obligation to ensure that patients who are showing problematic signs, or have become dependent upon opioids have access to necessary resources. While opioid use disorder has affected millions of Americans across the age spectrum, it is middle-aged and older Americans that have chronic pain and require long-term pain management. Keeping in mind that even if you take a drug as prescribed it can lead to dependence and addiction. Over time, more of the drug is required to achieve a desired feeling, thus beginning a journey toward overdose. Doctors who identify problem patients will often cut back or stop prescribing opioids to them all together, hopefully in conjunction with a referral to addiction treatment. If it does not play out like that, such patients will turn to the streets to acquire opioids. Many will not be above using heroin as an alternative.
Older Americans, Opioid Overdose and Treatment
People over the age of forty, are dying from opioid overdoses at an alarming rate. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that adults aged 45 to 54 had the highest overdose related death rate at 30 deaths per 100,000 in 2015. Between 1999 and 2015, drug overdose deaths increased the most for adults aged 55 to 64, from 4.2 per 100,000 to 21.8 in 2015.
“Generation X” and “Baby Boomers” are two age groups that doctors must focus on when it comes to opioid use disorder. Physicians are in a unique position to intervene and provide options that can help patients utilize alternative forms of pain management, break the cycle of addiction and recover before a fatal overdose occurs. What’s more, patients should be made to feel that they can talk to their provider about their dependence on pain medication. Help is often a two-way street.