The overuse use of opioids has become a national crisis.
The user’s descent into pain, addition, and sometimes death often begins with physical pain, treated by prescription medicine. The patient can become addicted to the prescribed opioids, only to find they provide less and less relief or that the prescriptions run out. At that point, they turn to under-the-counter meds and sometimes move on to heroin. This descent often ends in medical emergencies and, if the addict cannot break the tenacious habit, it ends in death.
The numbers are staggering. 2.6 million Americans are hooked on opioids such as oxycodone, fentanyl, and heroin.
A valuable, brief article in the Wall Street Journal discusses the way forward. The author, Dr. Sally Satel, is scholar-physician who treats addicts and studies the epidemic.
Dr. Satel makes several important points:
- Treatment is far better than punishment
- The “medicalized rhetoric” of the public-health establishment oversimplifies the problem since the problem is more than a “brain disease”
- Because the problem is more complex, simply prescribing anti-addiction medications will not solve it
- Many patients use opioids even while using the anti-addiction meds
- Others drop out of the anti-addiction med programs
- The anti-addiction medications are subject to abuse themselves
- More effective solutions require supervision to ensure the patient actually takes the anti-addiction medication and receives support through the difficult withdrawal process.
- The supervision may need to be involuntary, mandated by courts, for some patients
The problem is widespread, deadly, and hard to solve. Dr. Satel’s explanation and suggested approach makes her article well worth reading.