Devin Reaves, 36, tells USA Today that his opioid addiction started when he was only 16 years old when he was prescribed for a 30-day prescription to manage his acute pain from the removal of his wisdom teeth. Reaves went through his medication in just 3 days. Realizing the easy accessibility to obtain opioids, Reaves began to use pills at his friends’ house and on the street. Very common, Reaves’s addiction to opioids led to a heroin addiction when he was in college. Luckily, he began a drug intervention process led by his mother and drug counselor when he was 24 years old. Not all teens and young adults are as lucky as Reaves when they become addicted to opioids. Researchers from Yale University found that nearly 9,000 adolescents died due to opioid addiction problems from 1999 to 2016 (Gaither, Shabanova, & Leventhal, 2016). This is an alarming rate of adolescents dying that could have been prevented. Like Reaves, adolescents who first misuse opioids get into heroin addictions. Researchers also found that 80% of people who have misused heroin began their addiction by first misusing prescription opioids from common surgical procedures like wisdom teeth removal (Muhuri, Gfroerer, & Davies, 2013). Wisdom teeth removal procedures are so common and can occur when an individual is an adolescent to young adult age. Because the procedure is so common, numerous amount of people across America will have the procedure and come face-to-face with opioids. According to Researchers, 21 to 29 percent of people prescribed opioids reported that they did misuse them during prescription period (Vowles et al., 2015). Adolescents have been misusing strong addictive drugs during critical years of development that can lead to more addictions later in life.
The 9,000 lives lost due to opioid addictions could have been prevented. Stories like Devin Reaves can be heard and treated with steps to start the end of the opioid epidemic America faces today. Although it cannot be fixed with only one simple solution, steps can be proceeded to start the process of cleansing. I am going to introduce my solution to end the opioid epidemic in just four steps. One of the most important steps to ending the opioid epidemic is to first develop, fund, and implement effective public education and awareness campaigns. Next, School and Community based prevention should be developed, funded, and implemented. The next critical step is to start reducing the availability and accessibility to opioids. The last step is to invest in research. These four steps are crucial to start the process of ending the opioid epidemic.
The first step is to develop, fund, and implement effective public education and awareness campaigns in the local area. Adolescents are well aware of drug free campaigns involving smoking cigarettes & marijuana and the effects from those drugs. Although drug free campaigns involving smoking cigarettes and marijuana are very important, opioid campaigns need to be broadcasted just as much or even more due to the increasing mortality rate. Opioid campaigns need to address the best way to identify, prevent, and treat opioid addictions. Like other drug free campaigns, opioid campaigns should include addiction care services and toll-free hotlines available to the public. The public should also be informed how to control prescription safely to adolescents. Just as controlling the distribution of prescriptions, the public should be informed how to safely discard the unused medications back to the suppliers to prevent the opioids getting into the wrong hands. Another important aspect of this first step is to reduce the negative connotation and stigma of being addicted, reminding the public that addiction is not at the fault of a person’s moral but how the brain processed receiving the addictive opioids. Taking this first step of keeping the public aware of opioid addictions can lead to the end of this epidemic.
After getting the opioid campaigns out to the public, the next step is to develop, fund, and implement School-and Community-Based Prevention programs. The local government should require school districts and communities to hold prevention classes that is focused on the health aspect rather than the punishing aspect of misusing opioids. These prevention programs and classes should not only address illicit opioid misuse but also prescription and the effects it has on the body and mind. The classes should also have different focuses and approaches for different age groups from adolescents to adults that are most suspectable for opioid misuse. A survey should also be implemented into the classes to screen any individuals in class to see if they show signs of risk or if people they know show signs. From there, different treatment options should be referred to those individuals who were screened. Having school- and community-based prevention programs and classes is important to not only bring more awareness but to have actual contact with people that could show signs of opioid addictions.
The next step is critical and that is to reduce the availability and accessibility of opioids. Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMP) systems should be used to prevent drug misuse. The PDMP systems collects, monitors, and analyzes data of prescribing drugs and dispensing drugs between pharmaceutical companies and practitioners all at the discrepancy of the patient. With this system adopted into different states, drug misuse can decrease. Another way to reduce the availability and accessibility of opioids is to create different incentives for states and locations that adopt a PDMP system. With PDMP systems, this can prevent direct-to-consumer distributions and reduce the selling of opioids illegally. Also, physicians who prescribe opioids are put into authorization programs so they can fully comprehend what is the right amount of prescription for a patient with certain backgrounds with other drug addictions. Physicians should also go through programs to recognize signs and signals of misuse and how to respond under the event of suspicion. Having Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMP) systems can not only help the patients being prescribed opioids but also the physicians who prescribe them.
The last step to ending the opioid epidemic is to invest into research on better options. Investing in research can be looking to develop non-addictive pain treatments or new treatments for opioid addictions. A further step taken by investing in research is to also investigate treatments for women who are currently pregnant and babies who are born with neonatal abstinence syndrome. These different research projects can be implemented into one data base to obtain more statistics that are more frequent. Different data can have statistics showing from different locations and to see the increase or decrease of opioid misuse with the new treatments. More research can also be conducted to see if the Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs were effective or not and the data collected from different the PDMPs. Investing into research can help reduce opioid misuse to see if new treatments are effective and whether to implement the treatments into populations with high risk.
My four steps to prevent opioid misuse and addiction can help prevent more stories like Devin Reaves. Effective public education and awareness campaigns can start the end of the opioid epidemic by informing the public of how opioid misuse happens. Having school-and community-based prevention programs can give the people first-hand experience on how to prevent this from occurring with health-based programs. After informing the people, reducing availability and accessibility to opioids is in the hands of those who prescribe the drugs by adopting Prescription Drug Monitoring Program systems. Using different techniques to prevent opioid misuse can lead to more research in ending the opioid epidemic by finding other treatments that are more effective to certain groups of people. These steps can only lead to ending the opioid epidemic, but it is up to the local and federal government to develop, fund, and implement these steps.
Like other drug campaigns that have been frequent in social media, TV commercials, and posted at stops around the city, opioid campaigns should be broadcasted just as much. When physicians and pharmacies distribute more opioid drugs to a patient months after a surgery is considered ethically wrong because they should be able to identify the signs and risks of a patient misusing the drug especially when they know the effects of what opioids can do to a person. Because opioids are a narcotic drug, opioids affect an individual’s chemical components. In the nervous system, the opioids bind to pain receptors and block the pain signals to the body. With an increase in opioids in the system overtime, can cause the body and brain to need more opioid drugs to receive that same level of high. Although opioids temporarily relieve an individual from pain, it sill has chemical components that make it addictive that have been presented from the day it came out in the 1990s. The opioid epidemic is present in America today and although it has been addressed, nothing has been done to stop it. With my four steps, I believe that we can end the opioid epidemic across America by starting locally and seeing the impact it has on different states.
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