According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than forty-two thousand Americans died from opioid drug overdoses in 2016. Of those forty-two thousand deaths, about half of them were from poor souls who were taking pharmaceutical opioids that were supposed to help them, not hinder them. And 2016 was only one of many years, every year since the late 1990s in fact, where drug overdose deaths from prescription opioids rocked the nation and caused untold misery and upset.
This problem has gotten so bad that prescription opioids, drugs that are supposed to help us and make our quality of living better, have actually contributed to a decrease in the average quality of living of the American people and the average American life expectancy.
As each year goes by, opioid painkillers are becoming more controversial and more frowned upon. Doctors have a difficult time ascertaining when painkillers are appropriate to utilize due to the terrible risks associated with them. Doctors need to have basic rules and guidelines that they can follow where they can know when it is appropriate to use painkillers and when it isn’t.
In Germany, ibuprofen and aspirin reign as the predominate painkillers. These are over-the-counter, low-strength painkillers. Many other European countries follow this model too. When a patient gets out of a hospital following a major surgery or accident recovery, they don’t fill a prescription for powerful, mind-altering painkillers like OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin, etc. They go down to the local drug store and they pick up a bottle of ibuprofen. Then they go to the local health food store and they stock up on natural, holistic pain-relieving solutions.
While the United States does not need to necessarily copy European health practices, the extreme difference between Europe’s use of painkillers and our use of painkillers is something to note. Sure enough, all countries other than the U.S. seem to have relatively low pharmaceutical opioid prescribing rates, a factor we need to model our own approach to opioids after.
So how does a doctor know when it is appropriate to prescribe high-strength opioids? This is, of course, the question.
For one thing, high-strength painkillers should only be used in an inpatient, hospital setting or long-term recovery model. While there are some situations where patients will need to use painkillers on an outpatient basis, this should absolutely be the stark minority.
Painkillers do have their place in residential, hospital settings. High-strength painkillers and numbing agents are necessary for certain surgeries where the patient is not sedated. Painkillers are also necessary for recovering from a surgery or other, major operation.
Another factor that doctors should consider is the needs that terminally ill patients, cancer patients, and extremely sick or injured people have. When a patient is in an extreme degree of pain, they might need pain relievers just to function properly. And when a patient suffers a terminal condition, they may as well live out their last days or months in some degree of comfort.
The vast majority of persons who are prescribed painkillers are persons who do not really need them, or at the very least who do not need such high strength and heavily addictive pills. These are persons who would do just as well with over-the-counter pain relief.
Research indicates that the majority of ailments that painkillers are prescribed for fall into three categories, i.e. back pain, headaches, and jaw/toothaches and pain. But the most disturbing factor of all of this is that such high strength painkillers are not even intended to treat such pain problems. In fact, over-the-counter pain relievers (the various low-strength painkillers like Advil, Aleve, Aspirin, etc.) are more than effective for addressing such pain problems.
Over-the-counter pain relief, sufficient rest, natural and holistic remedies, tea, good food, and a massage or two are the doctor’s orders for most pain problems. Yet instead we freely prescribe high-strength painkillers for such ordinary pain problems and then wonder why so many Americans are hooked on opioids.
Opioid painkillers are the primary contributor to the nation’s opioid epidemic. Since the turn of the century, the prescribing of opioid pharmaceuticals has increased by more than four-hundred percent. Coincidentally, overdose deaths and admissions to treatment centers for addiction have also increased by four-hundred percent. We need to reduce our prescribing trends drastically to reduce the addiction dilemma that our nation is stuck in.