NIH and CDC work to overcome opioid epidemic

Starting in the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies reassured health care professionals that the use of opioids in prescription painkillers would not lead to widespread abuse of the substance or overdoses. This lead health care professionals to prescribe opioid medicine at higher rates, and misuse of these medications rose significantly before it became clear that these medications could indeed be highly addictive. These medicines have both economic and social consequences.

“I think opioid pain medications should be used depending on the person, if not (they) can use alternative methods such as physical therapy,” said senior exercise and sports major Jules Evans-Anfom.

The National Health Institute estimates that over roughly 21 to 29 percent of patients who have been prescribed opioids misuse them, and four to six percent of those patients later begin to use more aggressive drugs such as heroin. An analysis showed that in counties where there was a larger pharmaceutical interest, or where pharmaceutical companies focused their marketing efforts, more health professionals would prescribe these medications.

“The counties that had the most opioid product marketing from pharmaceutical companies were the counties that subsequently one year later had more opioid prescribing and had more opioid overdose deaths,” said Dr. Scott Hadland from the Boston Medical Center in an interview with HealthDay.

In meetings with healthcare professionals and pharmaceutical companies, pharmaceutical representatives would downplay the risks involved with opioid medications for overdose and addiction and would recommend these new medications to doctors.

An estimation by the National Institute on Drug abuse shows that 130 people in the United States die of overdoses on opioids every day. In addition, studies show that a person is more likely to die of an opioid overdose than from car accidents, falls, or drowning.

“The opioid crisis began when doctors started to prescribe too much pain medication and it affected the individual’s physical health,” said first-year Ade Oladele.

The economic consequences prove that opioid abuse affects work productivity and leads to excessive costs for drug rehabilitation and additional health care costs accumulating a total of 78.5 billion dollars per year.

The rise of opioid medications also contributes to public health welfare through the rise of neonatal abstinence syndrome, which is caused by opioid withdrawal during pregnancy. This can lead to further genetic diseases and respiratory problems for the baby. In addition, injection drug abuse of opioids with non-sterile equipment has led to the spread of infectious diseases including HIV and Hepatitis C.

“Doctors should prescribe medications only for severe cases, but they should be an option for patients who want them,” said senior biology major Shauna Brown.

The NIH and the Center for Disease Control are attempting to control this opioid epidemic using five major steps. These steps include increasing access to treatment and rehabilitation areas, promoting the use of overdose-reversing drugs, providing support for research in pain management and opioid alternatives and developing non-addictive pain medicines.