In the United States alone more than 130 people die each day because of an opioid overdose, which amounts to 21,450 lives lost due to drugs in a single year (National Institute of Health). These numbers are alarming and provide testament for the need to identify and lhalt the opioid epidemic from continuing to grow. The NIH and the U.S.
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Department of Health and Human Services are supporting the research to end the epidemic, yet it does not seem as if it is making a difference. Without determining the causes and creating solutions, this epidemic will continue to grow and claim even more lives. However, there is not just one singular cause or drug to blame. Rather, there is a multitude of factors and substances that contribute to the complexity and difficulties in solving this problem. The drug epidemic continues to grow despite the government’s best efforts, and the issue stems from a broken prescription system that allows for medicine misuse, and misguidance regarding opioid medication effects.
This drug problem is traceable to a damaged system that is leading patients to addiction. It is evident that the opioid prescription drug market is corrupt and needs to be fixed before any improvement will be seen. In his article The Opioid Epidemic, doctor Ronald Whitmont depicts just how fraudulent the system is by saying, “At the heart of America’s epidemic of opioid abuse is a medical system designed to entrap and addict patients to pain medications.” (1). This is a startling fact, as medicine is intended to provide help and treat pain, not create more problems for the patient. If the system is designed to fail and cause the users to become addicted from the start, then it needs to innovate. There has to be an advancement in order to allow the medication to serve its purpose and provide more comfort to patients than hurt.
People are also able to abuse the system and obtain drugs even when they medically do not need them. In Miles D. Schreiner’s article The Deadly Combination: The Legal Response to America’s Drug Epidemic, he details what he thinks the problem is by outlining how the medication is not monitored closely enough, which results in patients traveling to different doctors that will continue to dispense it (3). It has become very easy for people to obtain additional drugs, even if they really do not need them, because there is little to no regulation. The system must be changed in order for medications to be more closely observed, allowing only the people who genuinely need the medicine to receive it. Before a patient receives a high-risk opioid, such as OxyContin or Vicodin, there should be more extensive documentation from doctor to doctor to ensure that there is no deception in how much the patient will receive. This will help combat the epidemic by reducing the number of drugs distributed. However, misuse and overuse are not the only obstacles in this epidemic.
There has been a lack of knowledge and truthfulness regarding opioids, resulting in a distribution of medicine that causes patients to become addicted. Studies were completed where it was concluded that opioids would not cause long term damage and this information was accepted and caused opioids to be prescribed at higher rates (Meldrum 1). While opioids have been recognized as addictive, it is not enough to make up for the consequences that people have had to face and continue to be affected by. A single drug has caused the drug epidemic to grow, as the medical company who produced it was not honest about the medication leading to a plethora of difficulties for those who received it. The drug in reference is OxyContin, which was first characterized as non-addictive, allowing for it to be prescribed at higher rates. The drug maker, Perdue, reassured medical companies that the drug was safe and would not become addictive. However, this was not the case and it was later discovered that the drug was addictive and not safe for long term use. In 2007, Perdue plead guilty of falsely advertising their drug and lying about the qualities, proving that it was in fact addictive. (Lexchin and Kohler 2-3). The Perdue company has played a significant role in the drug epidemic as they have put many people at risk by deceiving the public. When patients receive a drug, they expect to know all the benefits along with the potential side effects of a drug. This was not the case for those who received OxyContin. Even though the truth was eventually discovered, it was too late for many, as the drug had become a gateway to other opioids that are often more dangerous and addictive.
Some may say that the cause of the drug epidemic is illegal drugs such as heroin or fentanyl. However, the problem does not start there. It begins with prescription opioid
drugs. One of the issues associated with the prescription drug market is that an initial use can lead to addiction and a desire for more drugs. The author Marcia Meldrum in her article says, “Hundreds of Oxycontin abusers, many of them middle-class adolescents and young adults, began to see heroin as ‘a less and less scary and taboo thing.”’ (2). Once they become addicted to the prescription opioid drugs, they often turn to even more dangerous drugs that have no regulation from the government and can be attained at even higher rates since it does not go through a doctor. Even though it can be easy to obtain drugs from a doctor by lying or traveling to different doctors, any level of regulation is better than nothing. The root of the problem is within prescribed medication, and while it is true that illegal drugs play a role, they are often not the true source of the epidemic. According to the NIH, 80% of heroin users first abused prescription drugs (National Institute on Drug Abuse). This statistic shows that it starts first within the medical system and that is where the efforts should be focused on controlling and stopping this epidemic. The fraudulent medicine companies and misuse of prescription drugs is the primary cause and is driving this epidemic forward.
This epidemic starts with a defected opioid medical system that has lacked knowledge about medication, permitting overuse of prescriptions. Although the government continues its attempt to solve this problem, the epidemic still takes more and more lives. It is essential that the prescription medical system changes in order for the drug epidemic to be stopped. Medical companies must be more honest with doctors and patients about the kind of medication they are producing and doctors must be more vigilant when prescribing medication to make sure that patients are not going to become addicted to the medication. If the problem can be fixed there, then it will reduce the number of illegal drugs used, helping to end the epidemic. While the medical system’s intention may have initially been good, in the next year 21,450 lives are dependent on the opioid epidemic being stopped, and it is time for people to stand up and fight for change.
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