America’s Drug Problem

According to the CDC, there were over 52,000 deaths because of the drug epidemic that has swept the nation. So how can the government combat this effectively?

It’s easy to get distracted with what we’ve been dealing with for the last few months. But 2015 was the worst year for drug deaths, and according to Vox, preliminary data shows that 2016 can be worse.

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Drug overdoses have surpassed HIV/AIDS for more deaths in a year. Credit: Vox/CDC

This past year, in order to get the attention of Americans, several police departments across the country have posted photos of parents/single parents who overdosed in cars while children were in the backseat. The Washington Post questions whether or not this a new norm in America. And it’ been reported that drugs are the leading cause of accidental deaths, beating out car accidents and accidental shootings.

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One of several dozen photos that have been taken by police departments of drug users who’ve shot up in parking lots with children in the back seat. Credit: Town of Hope Police Department

So, how did we get here?

In 2013, the CDC reported that medical providers wrote nearly a quarter of a billion opioid prescriptions, which is enough for every American adult to have their own bottle of pills.

The Huffington Post reports that the epidemic began with figuring out how to treat pain. Physicians and doctors have tried to find answers to treating over 34 million patients with chronic pain. What makes this process difficult is not knowing how much pain one is in. Unlike blood pressure or something that is objective, assessing pain is subjective – so no doctor can really assess a patients pain objectively.

So, in order to help improve pain treatment, a national initiative called Pain as the 5th Vital Sign. I decided to look up this initiative and quickly found results that this does not improve quality for pain management. According to National Center for Biotechnology (NCIB), they saw zero results in the quality of pain care patients received. But the Huffington Post says this practice is still used to assess patients pain.

What drugs are responsible for drug overdoses?

It’s estimated that around 2.1 million people in the U.S. have abused drugs. In 2010, the CDC reported that heroin was responsible for 8 percent of all drug overdose deaths but in 2015 that number tripled to 25 percent.

Heroin has been on the rise in the last decade but people who are addicted to drugs become this way because of prescription painkillers; the most common drugs like Methadone, Oxyodone (OxyContin), and Hydrocodone (Vicodin). When pharmaceutical companies and medical institutions noticed the rising number in addictions they began to restrict painkillers.

When painkillers became more restricted people began to use heroin or synthetic drugs, which are cheaper and more accessible than prescription drugs.

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Chart provided by Vox, giving a visual of each state’s situation. Credit: Vox/CDC/German Lopez

How is the government and medical institutions trying to prevent more drug overdoses and deaths?

The CDC now has guidelines for prescribing opioids for chronic pain and can only be prescribed to patients 18 and older. The recommendations focus on pain that’s lasted longer than 3 months, active cancer treatment, palliative care, and end-of-life care.

Other ways to prevent more deaths are promoting the use of state prescription drug monitoring programs. These are state-run electronic databases used to track the prescribing and dispensing of controlled prescription drugs to patients. The program is meant to monitor the information to prevent abuse or diversion. These programs have proven to be the most promising state-level intervention method to avoid drug abuse.

Stat, a medical news group offers advice for governors who are dealing with drug abuse. The site suggests that governors need to expand access to lifesaving medication-assisted treatment. Governors also need to allow better access to therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy, family therapy, physiological testing, and 12-step integration (Alcohols Anonymous with therapist assistance).

For More Information:

American Society of Addiction Medicine:
The relevance of twelve-step recovery in 21st century addiction medicine

Center for Disease Control and Prevention:
Increases in drug and opioid-involved overdose death
Opioid overdose
Understanding the epidemic
Prescription drug monitoring programs

This is America on drugs: A visual guide

Huffington Post:
The opioid epidemic: how did we get here?

John Oliver YouTube:
Opioids: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI):
Measuring pain as the 5th vital sign does not improve quality of pain management

National Institute on Drug Abuse:
America’s addiction to opioids: heroin and prescription drug abuse

4 things governors can do to help combat the opioid epidemic

How the opioid epidemic became America’s worst drug crisis ever, in 15 maps and charts

The Washington Post:
Another parent’s overdose, another child in the back seat: A ‘new norm’ for drug users?




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