One of the dirty little secrets about drug addiction that is common knowledge amongst drug addicts but is constantly swept under the rug by “Big Pharma,” is that opioid addiction has become the fastest growing, most rampant, and most widespread social issue this country has faced since the War on Drugs first began in the 1970s. People are being prescribed these drugs by doctors for the most minor of injuries, being dispensed as readily as candy in some hospitals for something as small as minor back pain. When the prescription runs out, these patients who are hooked have to resort to buying pills like Percocet and oxycodone of of the street, or by scoring harder and cheaper drugs like heroin.
St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center sees the problem for what it is and has had enough. They are becoming the first medical facility in the country that will not use opioid painkillers to manage pain in the emergency room. This is in stark contrast to other medical institutions around the country where
“In 2012, there were enough opioid prescriptions issued…to give every man, woman, and child in the country their own bottle of pills.” Said Dr. Mark Rosenberg, chair of the Emergency Department chair.
Over two million Americans rely on prescription opioids for pain management and related death have quadrupled since 1999. Part of the problem lies in our healthcare infrastructure that labels common everyday pains as “injuries” and therefore many patients administered much stronger medication than would typically be recommended. Morphine drips and the administration of other opioids as the first and primary form of pain management in emergency rooms is also a massive problem, with some becoming addict during even relatively brief hospital stays.
But what does this mean for the future of healthcare in America? How will this effect public attitude towards drug addiction? With any luck, the precedent that St. Joseph’s is setting will become a standard across the rest of the country to follow. Healthcare is one of the hot button issues popping up during our current presidential race for the very reason that more and more people are starting to become aware of this glaring crack in the system and have had enough of it. The country is tired of being exploited by pharmaceutical companies and wants change.
As of this writing, federal legislation is pending that would offer federal grants to states and local governments to battle the national epidemic of heroin addiction and prescription opioid abuse. This legislation would have the ability to give much stronger consideration for the needs of drug addicts nation-wide and would make drug treatment the first option for addicts instead of criminalization.
This is a massive first step toward having the issue a drug addiction in America being handled from a much more grounded and realistic perspective. The only way to truly combat drug addiction is to prevent it from happening in the first place. It isn’t possible to count the number of lives that will be saved by this, and that may be the most reassuring uncertainty possible.