In the two plus years since Academy Award winner Philip Seymour Hoffman overdosed on heroin, deaths similar to his have skyrocketed. For many who have died from heroin abuse in the past decade, the gateway drug was opioid painkillers. The problem here is that not only are opioids over-prescribed, they're obviously abused, too. What makes the story even grimmer is that there are viable alternatives to prescription drugs for pain: namely, medical marijuana, breathing exercises, and relaxation therapy.
Most Medical Doctors Aren't Doing Enough
There's no question that we're facing a crisis with opioid addiction. Yet, the medical community continues to exhibit a tepid response to a national epidemic that may in fact be partly their fault. Doctors may be over-prescribing opioid painkillers, which then often fall into the hands of the wrong people. Patients who have valid prescriptions unwittingly become part of the problem when when they sell their unused pills or when family members or friends raid their medicine cabinets. In 2014, the year Mr. Hoffman died, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued Vital Signs, a report on the findings of an extensive study of the state of our opioid addiction problem. Here are just some of the findings:
- Physicians who over-prescribe are to blame
- The more opioid prescriptions doctors write, the more overdose deaths we have
- Each day, 46 people die from an overdose of prescription painkillers
- 10 of the highest prescribing states for painkillers are in the south
The federal government aims to do something about this, in what's being called the new drug war. The White House is calling on the medical community to ante up and do their part to fix a problem they helped create.
"We are over 10 years into this epidemic, and I don't think we've seen a robust enough response from the medical community,"
-Michael Botticelli, White House Drug Czar
Part of the remedy suggested by the Feds is better training to recognize opioid abuse in patients. Another tactic is opening up discussion with patients about alternative pain therapy. This past February, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) sent a letter to the head of the CDC suggesting one of those alternatives might be medical marijuana.
"I encourage the CDC... to fill the gap in our knowledge about the use, uptake, and effectiveness of medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids for pain treatment in states where it is legal"
-Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
When Senators get involved, you know change is coming. Although it takes efforts from everyone: government, doctors, and the community, we might someday see a better scenario, where opioids are replaced by medical marijuana and there are fewer deaths like that of Philip Seymour Hoffman's.