There is no doubt that opiate painkillers prescribed by well-intentioned doctors are the root cause of the opiate epidemic that has infected every stratus of our society in the United States. There is no population group that is untouched by opiate abuse and addiction. Since 2010, when it became apparent that rates of overdose were shooting higher and higher each year as a result of the problem, legislators have cracked down.
This has meant that:
- Some opiate medications that were less restricted than others (e.g., hydrocodone) were elevated to a more protected status that requires patients to be seen more frequently for refills and limits the number of doses per refill.
- Family physicians with the ability to prescribe painkillers were required to engage in increased education about the nature of the medications.
- Medical professionals who prescribe pain management medications were required to communicate the risks of painkillers with patients and more heavily monitor those who were taking the drugs.
- Pharmaceutical manufacturers were required to increase the time and information given to patients regarding the risks associated with addictive painkillers in new formulations.
- A statewide database used by pharmacists and prescribing physicians has been implemented to help identify those who may be altering prescriptions fraudulently or seeking multiple scripts for similar drugs from different doctors.
As a result of these and other changes, there has been a significant decline in overdose deaths caused by painkiller abuse. However, the crackdown on doctors for the overprescription of these medications has been so harsh, that many doctors err on the side of caution when it comes to prescribing these drugs. This has resulted in many chronic pain patients feeling as if they are not getting their needs met, finding it difficult to get high-level medications for intense pain and feeling as if they are met with suspicion at the doctor’s office when they seek help.
Are chronic pain patients in Las Vegas in crisis?
A Desperate Need
It is impossible to understand the decreased quality of life experienced by those who live with chronic pain unless it is your experience. Many find it impossible to sleep, focus on work, or manage their day-to-day affairs. The added difficulties of going to doctors’ appointments every month, waiting at pharmacies to fill their prescriptions, and having their dosages increased so slowly that it takes months to get any measure of relief can be excruciating.
Their frustration is real, and when the increased caution taken by doctors results in their dose being capped or their prescription cut off after a period of time, many feel desperate to find pain relief by any means necessary. As a result, many turn to the street to find the pills they feel will help them escape the pain, which does little to solve the problem and instead invites a host of new problems instead.
One Crisis Precipitates Another
As a result of turning to street drugs in an effort to escape pain, many pain patients find that their unmonitored use of drugs very quickly causes serious medical health issues. The risks include:
- The development of an addiction: Unmonitored use of addictive drugs means inconsistent dosing, which can mean a higher tolerance and a psychological dependence on the medication. This is especially a risk for someone whose use of these substances is driven by the need for pain relief.
- The use of fake pills: Counterfeit medications are often sold on the street because they are so difficult to get legally. Black market drug makers craft their pills to look exactly like the real thing on the outside but use chemicals and substances that do not submit to any standard, and often include deadly chemicals. For example, many people bought what they thought were typical medications on the street only to find they were laced with fentanyl and inadvertently took a deadly dose.
- Turning to heroin: Because opiate painkillers are expensive, many turn to the cheaper opiate alternative: heroin. It is far easier to get and far easier on the pocketbook, but heroin, too, may be laced with fentanyl. Many end up ingesting the drug with needles in the hope of intensifying the high, thus exposing themselves to other health risks as well, including infection, hepatitis C, and HIV/ AIDS.
- Overdose: Any use of street drugs, unmonitored use of addictive substances, and cravings for use of illicit substances put an individual at risk of fatal overdose. Without the supervision of a doctor, or if a doctor is prescribing other substances, the result of combining medications can very easily lead to overdose.
If you, or a loved one, are living with chronic pain, learn more about how to manage this ongoing issue while also addressing addiction. The best way to find stability is through treatment that has the resources to offer medical care as well as addiction treatment, and the only way to avoid overdose is to start that treatment now.