Opioids are extremely controversial. On one hand, they are widely feared compounds that can lead to abuse and addiction but they are also extremely effective and essential medications that help to relieve suffering. Once hailed as “wonder drugs”, opioids have caused an epidemic that is to blame for 70,000 lives in the U.S. last year alone.
Though many patients find relief from suffering through opioids, the nonmedical use of opioids has also increased substantially. As a leading cause of death in the U.S., the widespread issue of opioid overdose has garnered significant public attention. On October 26, 2017, President Donald Trump directed Eric Hargan, the Acting Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), to declare a national health emergency in response to the opioid epidemic in the U.S..
In the 1990s, before knowledge that the drugs were highly addictive, access to opioids was made easier than ever due to the role of the medical community and the demand for an effective remedy for pain. However, the result was a widespread corruption that has fueled our crisis today. The most common scheme involves corrupt physicians known as “pill mills” who discretely prescribe opioids without a legitimate medical need. This is because there are many doctors willing to go against professional duties for criminal and personal monetary gain. This issue has disrupted the ability of doctors to treat pain when opioids are involved.
Many laws and regulations have been set in place since awareness of the crisis to make sure doctors are following the correct medical guidelines when prescribing opioids. Often, doctors are regulated and limited on the number of pills that can be issued to patients, in an effort to reduce the need for opioids a much as possible.
Although many of these measures have targeted preventing opioid overdose, the opposite desired effect has started to surface. On the opposite end of the spectrum, patients are being denied access to opioids that have long been effective pain remedies, and a barrier has formed in effective pain care. Because laws make it more difficult to get prescription drugs, some addicts and legitimate patients are resorting to the black market to obtain them.
Doctors make easy targets to blame for opioid overdoses because they are the ones who prescribe it. So, many physicians face criminal murder charges after a patient’s death and in some cases, are falsely accused even though they always prioritize patient well-being. The pressures from legal action and close monitoring are resulting in patients being denied access to prescribed medications because doctors are reluctant and afraid of the law. According to recent studies conducted by The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and the Patient Quality of Life Coalition, one-third or more of cancer patients and survivors are having difficulty getting access to their prescribed opioid medications.
In the center of the crisis, physicians and the medical community have the duty for careful and conscientious prescribing, in addition to patient health and well-being. When one of the most effective yet controversial medications are involved, that responsibility is heightened.
How can we reach a middle ground between patients who are in dire need of opioids versus those without legitimate needs, all while preventing opioid misuse and corruption? Patients are suffering without effective pain management, and some are even resorting to suicide. The indirect consequences on both sides of the issue are intensifying, and we must act to find a solution for the welfare of our country.
Natalie Yun, Grade 10
Taft High School