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Opioids Are Misused and Overused in Medicine

Introduction

The word “opioids” is often associated with illegal drugs. Heroin and fentanyl are, in fact, opioids, and these are considered the most harmful drugs. However, opioids are a class of drugs that includes pain relievers, which are often used in medicine. These are, of course, available by prescription, and based on the patient’s situation, the doctor decides on the dose and substance itself. While pain relievers are an efficient way for a patient to cope with severe discomfort after surgery or chronic pain, some medical professionals tend to prescribe them in trivial situations that do not necessarily require such drastic interventions. Putting patients in danger by supplying them with potent pain killers leads to serious health issues, drug use, and long-term damage.

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Prescription of opioids has become more common

Medicine has gone through a lot of improvement over the last decades. Modern technology, drugs, and high-standard training for medical professionals are the things that contributed to this. While people value comfort more than they used to before, dealing with pain is a significant inconvenience. According to researchers, “prescribing of opioid analgesics for pain management—particularly for the management of chronic noncancer pain (CNCP)—has increased more than fourfold in the United States since the mid-1990s” (Volkow et al., 2018, p.451). The increase is caused by doctors being short of time and providing painless and fast solutions for their patients’ concerns as fast as possible. While taking strong pain medicine is effective, it masks the problem and causes damage if relying on it long-term.

Existing guidelines and ethics

The CDC guideline contains various suggestions regarding dosage, treatment goals, risks, and duration of opioid usage. However, the medical professional is entitled to assess the situation and make the final decision. The physician can follow up with it even if the guidelines suggest otherwise, which can be a dangerous practice. Recommendations include prescribing opioids in treating pain that lasts more than three months, discussing risks and benefits, and using urine drug testing during and after the period of use. The example excludes people undergoing cancer treatment, end-of-life care, and palliative care. However, according to researchers,” there are no guidelines on the use of opioid medications in adolescents. Their higher risk for addiction means opioids should be used only when other analgesics are not effective, and duration of opioid use should be kept as short as possible” (Volkow et al., 2018, ). Moreover, teenagers are more susceptible to developing side effects, addiction, and health issues from using opioids. Youth is predisposed to negative health implications, so medical care providers have to be cautious and alert regarding side effects.

Side Effects

As with any drug, opioids have multiple side effects that affect users on numerous levels. The first and most well-known difficulty is developing an addiction. Since prescription drugs such as Vicodin, OxyContin, Methadone, and Morphine have a similar origin to heroin, the addiction factor is also comparable if not identical. Besides the potential of physical addiction, patients might experience nausea, vomiting, constipation, sedation, etc. It is essential to mention that the relaxed feeling these drugs provide leads to developing a habit that can be hard to abolish. Another significant side effect includes multiple psychological and neurological issues. It means that the aftermath of using opioids is quite severe, which is another reason why medical professionals have to be more reserved when it comes to prescribing them.

Patients misuse prescription drugs

Many of the problems connected to the side effects are related to the patients themselves misusing the drugs. It means they don’t follow the doctor’s advice on the dose, take someone else’s medicine, and use the drug with the intent of feeling euphoric. However, this wouldn’t happen in the first place if the doctor monitored the prescriptions, pain level, and recovery. Besides explaining the multiple risk factors from ingesting these potent medications, the medical professional has to follow up with the patient and keep track of his journey. While it is the user’s responsibility to be accountable, the physician must ensure that all the rules are followed.

Addiction

Addiction is the primary risk when it comes to taking prescription opioids, and this is why many people chose to decline the suggestion of giving them a try. Since heroin has become a widely available drug of choice for many addicts, the general public came to the realization that it is highly addictive and destructive to both the psychological and physical health of the user. As mentioned earlier, there are multiple similarities between this illegal drug and the pain killers that physicians suggest. While they have a different status and reputation, the origin and effects are almost indistinguishable. Many factors contribute to developing an addiction. The things that play a role include genetics, psychological health, method of use, and social life. A person whose group of friends abuse drugs, has a mental illness, grew up with other addicts, and injects the medicine is more likely to develop a habit. That being said, no set plan can ensure the completely safe use of prescription opioids, even though there are rules that help minimize the risks.

Following rules and guidelines of opioid use

As mentioned before, there are ways to reduce the potential addiction problem. These include following the doctor’s advice when it comes to dosage and method of usage. Using for less than three days, not crushing the pills to snort or inject them, and not taking someone else’s medication can prevent long-term dependence. Nevertheless, there are other unique factors that affect the result. Stress, anxiety, depression, family problems, and personal history of usage are only a couple of things that lead some people to become addicted. There is no certainty that one will discontinue the medication even if all the rules are followed, which is what makes this process dangerous and potentially life-threatening.

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Unnecessary prescriptions of opioids

While opioids are considered the deadliest drugs due to the number of overdoses, many physicians seem to overlook this fact. Academic medical centers usually advise taking anywhere from 0 to 10 pills after surgery (except for cardiac bypass surgery, where the limit is three times higher). It has been noticed that surgeons tend to prescribe too many pills even when painkillers are not necessary. If the surgery was minor and the recovery time is known to be short and relatively easy, there is no need to look for drastic solutions. According to researchers, “surgical service was most significantly associated with potential overprescription, with ophthalmology and pediatric surgery being associated with a lower risk of overprescription and obstetrics and gynecology associated with the highest risk of overprescription” (Chen et al., 2018, p.4). While the public tends to blame manufacturers for having a dangerous agenda, there is no denying that medical professionals also significantly influence this problem. Many drug addicts confirm getting a habit from using medication. Since the doctors supply their patients with too many pills even when it is not necessarily called for, the opioid epidemic progresses.

A necessity for strong pain relievers

Some conditions are certainly too hard to handle without additional help. This is the case when strong pain relievers are crucial and indispensable. One example is cancer patients. Cancer treatment is excruciating, and medicines such as morphine, codeine, oxycodone, or even fentanyl help their quality of life. The same goes for end-of-life care and incurable patients. Since they are at the end of their lives, the risk of becoming addicted is not taken into consideration. This being said, most prescriptions are being given to people who are not suffering from such painful conditions. While opioids are essential in palliative care, end-of-life care, and cancer treatment, there are many conditions that don’t require such drastic measures.

Conclusion

After reviewing the evidence, it is certain that prescription opioids are misused and overused. Pain management is a gray area for many healthcare professionals. This may cause them to fill in the gap in training or knowledge with a quick solution. The problem with it is that the “solution” is providing the patients with drugs that can potentially lead to devastating effects. While there are conditions that require heavy pain medication, there are cases when it is ought to be avoided. The doctors have to make sure they inform the patients about the possible risks if the opioids are crucial in one’s treatment and recovery.

References

Chen, E. Y., Marcantonio, A., & Tornetta, P. (2018). Correlation Between 24-Hour Predischarge Opioid Use and Amount of Opioids Prescribed at Hospital Discharge. JAMA Surgery, 153(2), 1-9. Web.

Volkow, N., Benveniste, H., & McLellan, A. T. (2018). Use and Misuse of Opioids in Chronic Pain. Annual Review of Medicine, 69(1), 451–465. Web.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "Opioids Are Misused and Overused in Medicine." September 24, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/opioids-are-misused-and-overused-in-medicine/.

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