OPINION — President Obama designated last week as National Opioid and Heroin Awareness week. It only seems appropriate that we take a moment to become aware of the opioid epidemic we are facing in the United States.
In Utah, the problem is actually worse than the national average. Utah ranks fifth in the nation for deaths caused by drug overdose. Every month, 24 Utahn’s die from prescription drug overdoses. In 2014, 32 percent of Utah adults were prescribed an opioid to treat chronic pain. Between 2000-2014, Utah saw a 400 percent increase in deaths caused by opioid prescription abuse, and 59 percent of deaths involve oxycodone.
Between 2007-2010, Utah’s Department of Health received funding to combat opioid abuse; within that time there was a 28 percent decrease in deaths caused by opioid abuse. When the funding expired, deaths increased by 24%.
According to the CDC, there were 47,055 lethal drug overdoses in 2014 in the U.S. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 18,893 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers, and 10,574 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2014.
Is it surprising that opioids kill about the same number of people in the United States each year as terrorism does worldwide? Is it surprising that over half of those opioid deaths are from legally prescribed drugs? Is it surprising that prescription opioid sales and deaths from opioid abuse have both quadrupled since 2000?
A recent article by CNBC has also pointed out that doctors are not prescribing treatment for withdrawals from prescription pain killers. According to the article:
Buprenorphine, often sold under the brand name Suboxone, has become an increasingly popular tool to treat opioid addicts, by eliminating their withdrawal symptoms. About a quarter of the 2.8 million people or so people diagnosed with opioid abuse disorder take buprenorphine, typically in oral form. But only about 2 percent of the nation’s doctors are authorized to prescribe the drug, and only about one-fifth of those waivered doctors write around 90 percent of all buprenorphine prescriptions.
These are important things to consider. Perhaps one piece of good news about opioid abuse is that we can help solve the problem with a lot less money. Most of the problems with the epidemic are fairly simple. It mostly requires accountability and common sense. Utah 2nd Congressional District Candidate Charlene Albarran has proposed three things that can be done.
- Doctors can convene to make new guidelines for prescribing prescription pain killers. While doctors cannot be held directly responsible for a patient abusing prescription drugs, doctors could be more careful. Charlene Albarran has said “I urge our medical professionals to propose a way to start lowering these statistics”.
- Consider legalizing medical cannabis for use of CBD extracts which are not mood altering and a very effective pain killer. It is not physiologically addictive, and one cannot overdose. This could save thousands of lives each year as an alternative to addictive prescription painkillers.
- Increased accessibility to overdose antidote Naxalone. Between 1996 and 2010, nearly 10,000 overdoses were reversed by this antidote. Making sure first family members of addicted users have the antidote and also first responders in critical in giving care as soon as possible for those who do overdose.
This is a problem that must be taken seriously. We must start by becoming aware of the problem and educating others, especially adolescents about the dangers of prescription drug abuse. We can make sure the candidates we are voting for have serious solutions to the opioid epidemic. Too many people are being ignored and we must start paying attention to what is going on around us.
Submitted by Manuel Campillo of Salt Lake City
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