BlessWorld Foundation International

Affecting the World Through Health
A Global Health Initiative

Pain Management and Addiction: Opioids as a Case Study



According to the data obtained from a study in 2018, about 128 people in the United States lose their lives daily after overdosing on pain killers, with numbers reaching an alarming average of 43,000 to 50,000 deaths per year- almost comparable to flus and other highly infectious diseases. Pain killers such as opioids are originally prescribed to treat chronic pain but with prolonged use, the pain relieving effects may lessen with the pain worsening and the body can develop dependence. Worse still, in addition to prescription-dependence cycle, some of the illegal/street drugs that are available to the public are made with unknown amounts of fentanyl. Fentanyl is a very potent opioid that cannot be seen, smelled or tasted and is lethal in a dose as small as a pinch).This dependence towards opioids causes withdrawal symptoms making it difficult to stop taking them. A major fact is that some patients can be condemned to a life of addiction within a week of exposure to the drugs as proven by several studies. Currently, there is no other known drug or medication that kills people such as opioid overdose. Drugs classified as opioids include oxycontin, fentanyl, buprenorphine, oxymorphone, codeine and morphine. These are usually prescribed by healthcare providers to manage severe and chronic pain in addition to heroin and are illegal drugs of abuse. These drugs are regrettably almost indispensable in the practice of medicine and even till this day some of the drugs remain essential in managing some covid-19 patients on ventilators.

Negative effects of opioid use vary broadly and may differ from person to person. These include:

  • Powerful and compulsive urge to use these drugs even when they are no longer required medically
  • Withdrawal symptoms such as muscle cramping, diarrhea and anxiety
  • Shortness of breath, unconsciousness and deaths
  • Neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome
  • Spread of infectious diseases such as HIV and viral hepatitis B and C due to injection drug use
  • Social, economic and health crisis such as lost productivity , addiction treatment and criminal justice burdens

Opioid crisis dates as far back as late 1990’s when pharmaceutical companies started. The Sackler brothers reassured the medical community that patients cannot become addicted to the prescription opioid pain relievers and then the health care providers began to prescribe them at very high rates as they were very effective. This led to the widespread lie and abuse of the medications before it was proven that these medications were highly addictive.

With current statistics and data, including the percentage of patients that are prescribed opioids who misuse them and those that develop an opioid use disorder, it is obvious that opioids crisis is on the rise.

The US Department of Health and Human Services spreads it efforts across five major aims which are:

  • Improving access to treatment facilities and recovery services
  • Promoting use of overdose-reversing drugs and medications such as naloxone and Suboxone
  • Strengthening the understanding of the epidemic through improved public health surveillance
  • Supporting up to date research on pain and addiction
  • Advancing better practices for pain management

The above measures help in tackling the opioid crisis but a lot more can be done to end the epidemic. Pharmaceutical companies are currently allowed to sell these drugs without regulation which is unsafe. Unfortunately, corruption, lobbying and a profit motive have led individuals and lawmakers to take actions like stripping the DEA of its ability to suspend suspicious narcotic sales thus hindering their ability to regulate and enforce laws that prevent the over use and over distribution of opioids. This does not serve the interest of the people affected by this crisis but favors the big pharmaceuticals that clearly want to make profits at risk of human lives. Additionally, more organizations like HEAL (helping to end addiction long term) and NIH should be endorsed. The Saskatchewan Health Authority since its launch in 2015, has also aided in fighting of the opioid crisis by the use of its naloxone kit program and the training of personnel for people at risk of an opioid overdose. Finally, people should be more informed and educated on these, more studies on medications and technologies to handle opioid abuse should also be conducted.

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