Epidemic: Has opioid addiction finally begun to decline?

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Prescription opioid painkiller abuse has caused an unimaginable amount of suffering in the U.S. – and states are finally starting to address it.

The problem of opioid painkiller addiction has been skyrocketing in recent years, but researchers believe it may have reached its peak. According to a report from the New York Times, the number of opioid painkiller prescriptions began to fall for the first time since OxyContin, a popular opioid drug, was released to the market in 1996.

Doctors have spent the past two decades prescribing opioid painkillers with little concern for the drugs’ potential for addiction and abuse, and officials are finally starting to address the problem. Overdoses related to prescription opioid drugs resulted in more than 28,000 deaths in 2014 alone.

According to Kentucky physician Greg Jones, “We in the health care profession had a lot of years to police ourselves and clean this up, and we didn’t do it. So the public got fed up with people dying from prescription drug abuse and they got together and they passed some laws and put some rules in place.”

Indeed, many argue that lax policies surrounding the drugs have contributed to the problem of rampant abuse across so many of the nation’s communities. Physicians in Kentucky, for example, can now tap into a database that offers access to a patient’s medical history surrounding opioid painkiller use.

The state became the first in the country to require doctors to use this capability to assess a patient’s potential for drug abuse before prescribing opioid painkillers. Since then, sixteen states have followed in Kentucky’s path, and the CDC and Office of National Drug Control Policy have issued statements urging other states to do the same.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the policies work. In states where such laws have been passed, opioid abuse has dropped considerably, as well as hospitalizations and deaths related to opioid overdoses. More people checking in for addiction treatment as well, and it’s stopping the problem dead in its tracks.

Painkillers will continue to have their place in the array of drugs offered to patients, but policies like drug monitoring take a common-sense approach to a problem that has been swept under the rug for too long.

A press release from Pew Charitable Trusts describing the details of the research can be found here.

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