Prescription painkillers are dispensed daily to patients struggling with acute or chronic moderate to severe pain. Only a small percentage of this number are taking these drugs in service of an ongoing abuse or addiction issue, or are in the process of developing a substance use disorder based on their use of these drugs. However, this number is so significant that an estimated 44 percent of the American population say that they personally know someone who has struggled with the problem, says CNBC.
This information comes from a national poll recently released by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The poll also found that:
- Of the 44 percent who said that they knew someone who had fought the problem of painkiller abuse and addiction, 20 percent said that person was a family member, 21 percent said it was a close friend, and 26 percent described the person as an acquaintance.
- About 2 percent of respondents said they had personally struggled with a painkiller addiction.
- Approximately 58 percent cited a lack of access to appropriate intervention and treatment as a primary problem.
- Of the 44 percent who said they knew someone living with addiction, 61 percent said they were concerned about a lack of availability of treatment.
- About 28 percent of respondents said they thought prescription painkiller abuse was an extremely serious problem, as compared to 35 percent who said that heroin was an extremely serious problem – even though prescription painkiller overdoses are far more prevalent than heroin overdoses.
- Approximately 66 percent of poll respondents said the federal government is not doing what they should to manage the problem of prescription opiate abuse and addiction.
What do you think of the rate of painkiller abuse in the United States and the availability of treatment to manage the problem?
There have been a number of changes implemented in the past few years with the goal of limiting the abuse of painkillers and identifying those who need treatment for painkiller addiction in order to connect them with the treatment they need to heal. These include:
- Increased training for prescribing physicians and up-and-coming medical students about the addictive nature of painkillers and the risk of overdose
- Increased treatment programs and access to those programs for people in need
- Increased efforts to educate the public on the risks associated with painkiller use and abuse
- Increased research into the effects of painkiller use and abuse and effective treatments for painkiller addiction
- Monitoring of doctors’ prescription patterns
- Monitoring the number of and nature of prescriptions given to patients by different doctors
More than 80 percent of poll respondents supported these moves to limit new cases of prescription drug abuse and addiction, and help those currently struggling with the disorder to connect with treatment.
The drug naloxone is an opioid antagonist, which means that it can successfully stop a painkiller overdose – or any opiate overdose – in its tracks if administered correctly and in time. In many states, there has been a push to ensure that all first responders, including police and firefighters, carry the drug and have it available to administer as needed, and some states have legalized prescriptions for naloxone for friends and family members of people living with an addiction. The idea is to make sure that the drug is on hand in the event of an overdose and in the hands of the people most likely to come upon the person in need. To this end, the goal in many states is to make naloxone available to everyone without a prescription.
According to the poll, public opinion on naloxone varies depending on whether the answerer has a personal experience with painkiller abuse and addiction. About 45 percent who have experience with the issue believe that nonprescription naloxone is a good idea, while about 30 percent of those who have no experience with painkiller abuse and addiction agree with that opinion.
Connecting with Effective Treatment
For families who have a loved one struggling with opioid abuse or addiction in any form, treatment is an immediate need. The risk of overdose is high with every dose every day. Even “seasoned” drug users can inadvertently take too much, and families that are concerned about the many repercussions of untreated painkiller abuse are right to worry.
Effective treatment will include a range of treatment services and therapies, each one chosen specifically for its ability to meet an immediate need of the person in question. That means that there is no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” drug treatment program, even among people who share the same drug of choice.
This also means that there is more to treatment than simply addressing the physical cravings and withdrawal symptoms that often occur during medical detox. For many people, comprehensive opiate addiction treatment will, in addition to medical detox, include therapies and treatments that address:
- Co-occurring mental health disorders or symptoms
- Family relationships, especially spousal relationships
- Financial difficulties, including managing the out-of-pocket costs of addiction treatment
- Legal issues, especially those that may be directly related to choices made under the influence
- Health problems, including chronic medical issues that predated painkiller abuse and addiction like chronic pain
What does your loved one need to begin a personal journey toward balance and wellness in recovery?