USA Today had an informative article about the dangers of using opiods such as morphine and heroin–overdose deaths from opioids hit a record 28,647, or 78 people a day. This epidemic is fueled as much by well-meaning doctors as it is by dope pushers. Overdoses of the most popularly prescribed legal painkillers, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, accounted for more deaths last year than heroin, according to numbers released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Many doctors who are part of the problem have shown little inclination to solve it. The CDC has proposed guidelines to change physicians’ prescribing habits. The guidelines suggest that for acute short-term pain — which gradually resolves as tissues heal, such as after surgery or a sprain — doctors prescribe the smallest supply of drugs, for three days. For chronic long-term pain, CDC suggests physicians first look to other drugs or physical therapy. If they do prescribe opioids, they should start with the lowest possible dosage and continue opioids only if benefits outweigh risks.
Two recent studies demonstrate how much these guidelines are needed. Opioid prescriptions are dominated by general practitioners — the family doctors, internists, nurse practitioners and physician assistants that most patients see for common problems —according to a study published last month by Stanford University researchers. However, many general practitioners do not understand basic facts about how addictive opioids are and their potentially lethal adverse effects.
Opioid painkillers certainly are indispensable to those with terminal illnesses for whom addiction is not an issue. But these patients are not the CDC’s focus.
For many others, prescription opioids have become a gateway to addiction, to heroin (which can be cheaper and easier to obtain than many of the legal drugs) and even to death. Last year, this category of drugs rivaled guns and auto accidents as major killers of Americans. If the CDC guidelines are defeated, the winners will be the pushers of opioids, legal and illegal alike.