President Donald Trump has declared the country’s opioid crisis a national emergency.
In South Carolina, leadership has recognized that the president is correct. A crisis born largely of over-prescribing addictive pain-killing drugs and the subsequent abuse of the drugs has reached epidemic proportions.
In a three-part series that concluded Tuesday, T&D Staff Writer Dionne Gleaton looked at the opioid crisis, focusing on the extent of the problem, its direct impact on lives and what can be done.
Gleaton reported on the numbers:
• The U.S. Centers for Disease and Control’s latest Vital Signs shows opioid prescriptions continue to be written at a high rate, with the amount of opioids prescribed per person standing three times higher in 2015 than in 1999.
• The report indicates that while the amount of opioids prescribed in the United States peaked in 2010 and then decreased each year through 2015, the volume of the potentially addictive medications prescribed is still about three times higher than in 1999, when the problem with opioid addiction was in its infancy.
• The CDC has reported that prescription painkillers were responsible for roughly half of the nation’s 33,000 opioid-related overdose deaths in 2015.
Gleaton reported that focus on stemming the tide of prescriptions for pain-killers is essential.
“I would consider that opioids are overprescribed in general. What has helped in the recent past are the guidelines that have come out from the CDC and the DEA in terms of their recommendations for how to use opioids and having the providers be more aware of their prescribing habits through just that educational process,” said Dr. Monnie Singleton of Singleton Health Center in Orangeburg.
“I think that has helped us to sort of see a slight decrease in the number of prescriptions that are written, but old habits are hard to break. There are lots of physicians who’ve had patients on opioids for long periods of time and it’s hard to get them off of opioids,” Singleton said.
He said the lack of “any significant objective criteria for identifying if a person is in pain or not” has created a huge problem as it relates to the over-prescription of opioids.
“Certainly providers want to be sympathetic if somebody is complaining of pain. Oftentimes you don’t want to undertreat, so what I think has happened in the past is that people have over treated to make sure that they gave enough to cover the pain. But then that overtreatment has result in people selling them on the street,” Singleton said.
Gleaton reported on what a recovering addict has to say about the nightmare of opioid addiction.
“It’s a rough life. It’s a full-time job being an addict. There’s not a moment you don’t chase a pill. I mean if you don’t got it, you can’t move, you can’t function. You barely can sleep, cold sweats. I mean, it’s horrible. It’s horrible knowing that your life is based around a pill, that you can’t get out the bed, you can’t go to work, you can’t do nothing without that fix.”
Gleaton reported that addiction experts believe the problem has to be approached as a medical one.
“There is not a silver bullet, but I think that the United States government needs to step up to the plate and do more to treating it more kindly and participate in finding ways to treat it more effectively,” Singleton said. “Incarceration doesn’t do a thing. … What they need to do is really embrace the fact that opioid addiction is a medical condition.”
And Gleaton reported that the state government is aware that it must play a key role in addressing the problem.
State Rep. Eric Bedingfield is chairman of the House Opioid Abuse Prevention Study Committee. The legislator said the committee has seen that the state’s opioid addiction problem is a pervasive one that “knows no socioeconomic or racial boundaries.”
He is hopeful that by the time the committee issues a report on its statewide assessment of the opioid addiction problem – which he said will be accompanied by “various pieces of legislaton” in January – that they will have enough evidence to convince budget writers on the Ways and Means Committee “that we have not only got to be serious about attacking the problem, but we’ve got to be serious about funding the recovery.”
Bedingfield is right: “The government can’t fix it all, the government can’t pay for it all.” But government can take the lead in combatting over-prescribing opioids, ensuring that state first-responders are trained in administering drugs that can combat overdoses and fostering the availability of care and treatment that can help people overcome opioid addiction.
The opioid epidemic must be a top priority.
Review T&D Staff Writer Dionne Gleaton’s series in The Spot at TheTandD.com