It seems like forever that people in this country have been focused with the growth of opiate prescription drug abuse into epidemic proportions. Many people are asking themselves, won’t this ever go away? Won’t we ever be able to manage this high-profile problem? The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) tells us that while the abuse of opiates has somewhat decreased, the incidence of opioid prescription drug abuse-related problems has gotten worse.
The JAMA editors first discussed that the numbers of people who report using opiate prescription drugs have decreased, according to the yearly survey done by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). In 2003, 5.4 percent of respondents reported that they were taking their opiate medications in ways not prescribed by their doctors or taking someone else’s opiate medications. In 2013, that number dropped to 4.9 percent. It may not seem like much of a difference, but a half of a percentage point represents a lot of people. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that the people who get caught up in prescription drug abuse are getting into bigger problems than those a decade ago. Dr. Lewis Nelson, Dr. David Juurlink, and Dr. Jeanmarie Perrone published data in the same issue of JAMA confirming that deaths caused by opiate prescription overdose rose from 4.5 deaths per 1,000 people in 2003 and have reached 7.8 per 1,000 a decade later. Also, the people who experiment with prescription drug abuse now have a higher incidence of actually becoming addicted, and also of using opiate drugs for periods longer than 200 days per year. Opiate addiction has also become more common among people with major depressive episodes.
Getting Help For Prescription Drug Abuse
The NSDUH study also examined how and where people are getting help for prescription drug abuse. The study’s authors state that the actual number who access treatment has remained stable over the decade, yet it reflects an increasing percentage from 18.8 percent in 2004 and 19.7 percent today—so at least it’s a move in the right direction.
What is more interesting is that people are seeking help utilizing a wider variety of treatment options. Today’s person suffering from prescription drug abuse might go to an inpatient facility, get outpatient treatment, or go to a private physician’s office. Some get help only in hospital emergency departments or in jail. Statistics on treatment at physicians’ offices really jumped, from 25.1 percent to 34.8 percent, with the most likely reason being the availability of buprenorphine or Suboxone in the private physician office setting.
Where Are People Getting Opiate Drugs?
Today’s opiate abusers get their drugs more often than not from physicians. Even when they obtain pain pills from a friend or family member, the original source is usually a physician who has prescribed that medication for someone’s complaint of pain. So, despite the widespread publicity concerning the misuse of pain pills to treat ailments other than terminal disorders like cancer, doctors continue to get out their prescription pads and order the deadly opiates—not a good omen for recovery from this national epidemic. It breaks down to 53 percent of respondents who admit to nonmedical use getting opiate pain pills from a friend or family member who 81 percent of the time has had it prescribed by a physician.
Why aren’t doctors focusing on pain treatment alternatives? Because many common opiate prescription drugs are now marketed with tamper-resistant coatings, doctors turn a blind eye to the fact that a determined addict will find a way to tamper with the drugs. Those with addiction share their successes with one another and even on Internet message boards. It’s just easier for the doctors to ignore the problem.
The people who seek opiate addiction treatment today are older than those who got help a decade ago. They are also less likely to have health insurance, despite the Mental Health Parity Act of 2008—which did little to nothing to make treatment for opiate prescription drug abuse more available. There are fewer people today who have insurance, and also fewer people who have private insurance.
Dr. Howard Koh’s analysis of the opioid crisis within our communities, in the same JAMA issue, reminds us that 259 million prescriptions for opioid pain pills are written per year, enough to supply every American adult with their own stash. Three-quarters of the people addicted to heroin report that they turned to heroin after abusing prescription pain pills. Two million people, he says, are addicted to prescription opioids or battle prescription drug abuse.
Addiction resulting from prescription drug abuse worsens when people combine opiate drugs with alcohol or benzodiazepines, a deadly combination. There are also more people with opiate addictions diagnosed with HIV and hepatitis C.
Physicians’ specialty societies are promoting non-opiate treatment for pain issues, but change takes time. The best help available for someone who finds himself or herself in this fight again prescription drug abuse comes at a community-based medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program, a place where doctors prescribe either methadone or buprenorphine to help a person gain control over their addiction.
What Can MAT Programs Offer?
Your local MAT program connects you with a one-on-one counselor, a person with special training in substance use disorders. That person will help you explore the reasons that led you to prescription drug abuse and addiction and also will help you understand why some people are more prone to addiction than others. Once you become educated about addiction and its contributing factors, you will be better equipped to participate in your own treatment and achieve recovery. The counselor will also draw clear behavioral guidelines for you so that you can successfully return to the rewards of holding your own self accountable.
Group therapy sessions make it possible to understand that this is not a battle you have to fight alone! It really makes a difference when you realize, no matter how bad things have been for you, that recovery is possible. Finding your way back to a better life is possible. With methadone or buprenorphine, the horrible cravings for opiate prescription drugs or heroin will be eliminated, and so will the withdrawal symptoms that drive people to relapse.
You will find your way back to normalcy, a way to like yourself once again. You will find a way to heal your relationships with your family members, and if there are issues in your past that you cannot resolve, at least you can learn to move on from them.
Organizations such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA) have long recognized that prescription drug abuse brings a more compelling set of problems than does any other substance use disorder. More people successfully move into recovery when they participate in MAT programs than with other types of treatment. Why not pick up the phone and call your local MAT program, and make an appointment to get started?