For the first time in history, a United States Surgeon General has sent out a mass message to American physicians. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy sent a letter to 2.3 million doctors in recent days, asking for their help to end the epidemic of prescription painkiller overdose deaths. The landmark letter is a signal to doctors across the country that it is time for something to be done about the growing opioid painkiller problem in America.
American citizens are dying by the thousands each year; they are overdosing on prescription painkillers like oxycodone, fentanyl and morphine. Business Insider reports that between the years 2013 and 2014, the number of synthetic opioid-related deaths increased by a staggering 79 percent. Because synthetic opioids have an effect on the brain that is similar to heroin, and cause slow breathing, they are also associated with serious risks of overdose and death.
What should be a rare occurrence is happening with shockingly high frequency, largely because of heightened accessibility. Though the United States only makes up 5 percent of the earth’s population, the nation’s citizens are responsible for roughly 80 percent of the world’s opioid consumption. Opioid painkillers are not fluffy, fun drugs; they are extremely potent. Fentanyl, for example, is 50 times stronger than pure heroin. While fentanyl is legal and available through prescription, it is also manufactured illegally underground and sold across the nation.
A CDC report revealed that in 2012, healthcare providers across America filled out 259 million prescriptions for opioid painkillers – enough for every person in the country to have their very own bottle of pills. The CDC itself states, “Many states report problems with for-profit, high-volume pain clinics (so-called ‘pill mills’) that prescribe large quantities of painkillers to people who don’t need them medically.”
To make matters worse, opioid painkillers are also often prescribed along with benzodiazepine drugs. Benzodiazepines act like tranquilizers, greatly increasing the risk of accidental overdose and death. Though they are well aware of this fact, many doctors continue to prescribe the two drugs together. Clearly, this is a very questionable practice. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 31 percent of all opioid prescription-related deaths in 2012 involved the use of both opioids and benzodiazepines.
These kinds of drugs are addictive and easily accessible, regardless of whether they are obtained through a prescription or not.
In his letter, Murthy discusses how many doctors have been incorrectly taught that opioids were not addictive “when prescribed for legitimate pain.” Murthy goes on to note that many doctors were “encouraged to be more aggressive about treating pain.”
Who do you think gave doctors that impression? There’s a pretty good chance that information came from the companies that manufacture these drugs. And honestly, any competent medical professional should know that regardless of what a Big Pharma rep says, the amount of pain a patient is feeling does not dictate how addictive the substance they are being prescribed might be. Would you say that if you were in enough pain, heroin wouldn’t be addictive either? In fact, heroin is less potent than many other prescription painkillers available these days.
Murthy also talks about how doctors need to engage themselves in learning how to appropriately treat pain without increasing the patient’s risk for opioid addiction. If only there was some kind of plant that provided natural pain relief, and had a substantially lower risk of addiction, overdose and death. …
Sadly, medical use of marijuana continues to be rejected by the federal government, even though the facts are all there, staring them in the face. These prescription drugs kill thousands and destroy the lives of many more, totally unquestioned and without being vilified, while an innocent plant that could actually help people is illegal. What a world we live in.