OP: Doctors perpetuated the opioid epidemic

23 April 2019

Logan Davel

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    There have been several discussions centered on drug abuse in previous years and each cycle has been marked by the same checkpoints. Society will experience a surge in awareness, discussions will be held, talks will be made and the eventual culmination of this effort is seemingly insignificant. This insignificance is marked solely by statistics as drug abuse continues to rise and drug deaths continue unabated. Who should be held responsible if not the doctors over-prescribing the medication?

    According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2017, 70,237 deaths were a direct result of drug overdoses. Of these deaths, it was determined that 28,466 resulted from synthetic narcotics consisting primarily of fentanyl. A further 17,029 and 15,482 deaths were due to prescription opioids and heroin respectively.

    This is a significant jump from 2015 where the predominant perpetrator of drug overdoses was prescription opioids. Not only are these numbers increasing, but the number of deaths resulting from synthetic narcotics such as fentanyl is also increasing.

    These numbers all point to a similar conclusion. America has a massive drug problem that the majority of people are fully willing to sweep under the rug.

    So, why should we blame doctors? A team at Harvard Medical School and the Rand Corp. found that a comprehensive evaluation of medical records from 2006 to 2015 showed that no pain diagnosis was recorded for 28.5 percent of the prescriptions. This was an analysis of over 31,000 physician surveys that included an opioid prescription, an incredibly alarming number.

    The topic of over-prescription of opioids by doctors has been a headline topic in many of the previous year’s drug abuse discussions. Studies like this paint a picture that either doctors are a main component of the problem or they are not conducting their due diligence to negate the problem.

    This has been further scrutinized by the CDC which has put in place many new guidelines for opioid prescription by doctors. The CDC’s goal is that doctors will prescribe as low a dose as possible for as short a time as possible. All of this is in an effect to reduce the amount of prescription medication on the streets and lower the possibility of abuse.

    The U.S. government’s solution to this problem has been unlovingly coined the “war on drugs”. This is the same “war on drugs” that the U.S. government spends over 40 billion dollars  annually. Additionally, the number of arrests in 2017 for drug possession was over 1.3 million. Thus, I think it can be easy to see why, both socially and fiscally, the drug war is not winnable in the foreseeable future.

    A more applicable and responsible solution would be to address the issue at its roots. Society and doctors need to come to a consensus. Doctors need to be more stringent and diligent in the prescription of opioids as a whole with an even more scrutiny placed on fentanyl prescriptions. Society needs to overcome years of social stigma surrounding drug abuse so that actual progress can be made.