How Did the Opioid Crisis Happen?

How Did the Opioid Crisis Happen?

If there is one thing that we can all agree on, it’s that we’re in the middle of an opioid crisis. Even though there are a lot of other things happening in our world, opioid addiction is still rampaging through our society, with horrific consequences for individuals, families and our entire country. It’s estimated that 130 Americans die daily from opioids like hydrocodone, oxycodone and heroin. 

Fortunately, even in the midst of this crisis, holistic outpatient drug addiction rehab in Denver is available, and it can be very effective for treating these addictions.  

That said, it is worth contemplating how we got to this place.  And so far, illicit drug dealers and unethical pharmaceutical companies that manufacture opioids are the ones to get the blame. There is no question that both have contributed to this problem, but are they the only ones? What may surprise you is that many people have their hands in the cookie jar. 

Where Do People Get Prescription Opioids? 

Drug dealers are the obvious source of illicit drugs like heroin and cocaine, but they actually play a limited role in prescription opioids, according to SAMHSA data. Drug dealers sell fewer than 10 percent of these drugs. Instead, 50 percent of users get prescription opioids from their friends and relatives, while 25 percent get them from physicians. 

Even though “doctor shopping” (going from one doctor to the next) is often cited as a common way to get prescription drugs, data shows that most people obtain opioids from one doctor. 

I’ve Heard that the Pharmaceutical Companies are to Blame. Is this True? 

There have been several lawsuits made against unethical pharmaceutical companies like Purdue Pharma, the maker of the popular prescription painkiller OxyContin. These lawsuits claim that Purdue Pharma, among others, purposely downplayed the addiction potential of their products to doctors and physicians.

Without a doubt, the pharmaceutical companies have a role in the opioid crisis. They did mislead doctors and aggressively marketed their products for pain management. However, not all pharmaceutical companies are “bad,” and a simple conversation with a pharmaceutical rep shouldn’t erase the training that doctors receive. We know that opioids have a strong addiction potential. So, the blame isn’t on these companies entirely. 

What about Unethical Doctors? 

Another source that takes heat for the opioid epidemic is doctors, though not in the way that you may think. Several professional organizations, including the former American Pain Society (APS), instituted “pain as the fifth vital sign,” highlighting the need for improved pain management. As a result of these campaigns, doctors became innocent contributors to the opioid crisis. 

As the number of people receiving opioids increased, there was never a decrease in pain suffering. All this time, pain patients were being prescribed these drugs and they weren’t even working. In fact, some patients found that the drugs actually made their pain worse. In the meantime, many people were growing dependent on opioids, fueling the epidemic. 

Again, while doctors do bear some responsibility in overprescribing opioids, many were innocently contributing to the problem. 

prescription opioids

The Bigger Problem is the Education Doctors Receive 

There is also some blame that must go to the education doctors are receiving during their medical training. Opioid analgesics were a documented problem over 25 years ago, so why would this be any different today? Unfortunately, there is a lack of education on how to safely and effectively manage pain. 

Why is this the case? 

All types of doctors are likely to encounter patients dealing with pain – general practitioners, sports medicine doctors, ENTs, endocrinologists, etc. However, pain management doesn’t fall under one single specialty. Because of this, doctors often receive minimal training on how to manage chronic pain. 

Interestingly, pain management is most extensively taught in anesthesiology departments. While anesthesiologists do know how to manage acute pain related to traumatic injury or surgery, they have little knowledge on how to manage everyday pain. They also tend to receive less training in oral analgesics, substance abuse and addiction than other doctors. 

Then there’s the psychological component of pain. The International Association for the Study of Pain believes there is a strong psychological aspect to pain and that psychologically-based treatments are most effective. Psychiatrists do receive training in opioid use disorder, but they could benefit from more education and training regarding addiction and safer medications like SNRIs and anti-epileptics. 

FDA Had the Chance to Make Things Better. Did They?

In 2012, in response to the growing opioid problem, the FDA set up rules requiring painkiller manufacturers to deliver continuing education to doctors, as well as organized medication guides to inform patients about their risks. While these programs could have helped reduce the risk of opioid use disorder, there were two problems with them: 

  • The FDA let the pharmaceutical companies create the curriculums.
  • The programs were voluntary. 

Some people feel the FDA is to blame for the opioid crisis because they overlooked an opportunity to better educate doctors on the risks of overprescribing opioids. Instead, the curriculums didn’t discourage the use of opioids, and the drug manufacturers failed to report their findings on how the programs were working to the FDA. 

Final Thoughts

In the end, there’s not much we can do about unethical pharmaceutical companies or doctors. They will always exist. However, we can fight for changes in how the future generations of doctors receive training and education. It’s imperative that they understand how to recognize the psychological components of pain, refer patients to the proper specialists and rely on safer, less addictive medications. 

As mentioned previously, holistic therapies are also a worthwhile option, as many pain patients respond well to acupuncture, massage therapy and exercise. Better training and more awareness will benefit us all. We can eventually lower rates of opioid abuse and help individuals manage their pain more effectively. 

If you or someone you love has an opioid addiction, help is available. Continuum Recovery Center of Colorado provides holistic outpatient addiction treatment in Denver. We help people kick their habit and find better ways to manage their pain. Under one roof, you can enjoy acupuncture, music therapy, art therapy, fitness coaching and yoga. Contact us today to learn more.