The United States is currently in the grip of an opioid epidemic with over 28,000 Americans succumbing to opioid overdose in 2014 alone, of which 14,000 deaths involved misuse of prescription pain relievers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Looking at the increasing number of affected people queuing up at addiction treatment recovery centers, it becomes necessary to identify reasons leading to the growing opioid abuse.
Opioids help treat severe pain limited to a short period or prolonged acute pain associated with cancer patients. While the sale of prescription opioids in the U.S. shot up by four times between 1999 and 2014, not much change was observed in the amount of pain reported by Americans during the same period. A recent study on American patients taking prescription painkillers revealed that more than half of them had been recommended in excess of what was needed. The study also indicated that many of the participants had either shared their prescription opioids or failed to safely store them.
The study titled “Medication Sharing, Storage, and Disposal Practices for Opioid Medications Among US Adults” throws light on how some Americans gain illegitimate access to addictive pain medications like OxyContin or Vicodin. The study, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine in June 2016, said that sharing medications with friends who use prescriptions medicines or the callous storage unmindful of possibility of adolescents using them for non-medical reasons were some of the reasons for the rising opioid scourge.
The study also revealed that of the total number of patients observed, more than 60 percent patients with leftover opioids, intending to keep them for future use, had not disposed of the medications. Roughly 50 percent of them informed that they did not remember being advised about safe opioid storage or need to be alert to keep them out of someone else’s hands.
Callous attitude of doctors: A potential cause of opioid misuse
Regarding advice for safe storage of opioids, only 33.3 percent informed that they had received instructions directly from their physician or nurse. Pharmacies or chemists or labeling on drug packages formed the source of this advice in nearly 45 percent of the respondents. Less than 10 percent patients stored their opioids in enclosed spaces while only about a fifth responded that they had stored their drugs in locations that were latched. But not many were informed as to how to dispose of excess medicines.
Elucidating on the observations, lead author of the study Alene Kennedy-Hendricks, an assistant scientist in the department of health policy and management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in Baltimore said, “We need to make it easier and more convenient for people to dispose of their leftover opioid medication. There have been efforts in recent years to expand drop-off sites and approved collectors, but perhaps it has not been enough.”
The observations by Hendricks is pursuant to findings indicating that among patients who had shared their medications, an estimated 8 percent had passed on the same to their friends, while 14 percent reported to give them to a relative. The researchers also found that roughly three-fourth of the participants had given away their excess medications to someone else afflicted with pain.
Curbing over-prescription of opioids
According to the CDC, the opioid problem stems largely from excessive prescription written by physicians. Dependence on opioids also gives way to prescription of heroin which is another worry in the U.S. Thus, doctors need to provide proper information to patients about safe storage and disposal of prescription painkillers and also prescribe such drugs in a controlled manner.
If you know someone addicted to prescription medications, seek help from the prescription drug abuse treatment centers immediately. To learn more about the prescription drug abuse treatment clinics, contact the Prescription Drug Abuse Helpline. Chat online with our treatment advisors or call our 24/7 helpline number 866-450-1557 to get immediate help regarding any prescription drug abuse issues.