The term “opioid crisis” is used to refer to the sharp rise in the number of Americans addicted to opioids in the 2010s. It started with the development and launch of new painkiller drugs in the 1990s that, despite pharmaceutical companies’ claims, proved to be highly addictive, leading to fast-growing abuse rates among patients. In 2015, an estimated 1.6 million people in the United States suffered from substance abuse disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers, most notably OxyContin (Trudeau). With these drugs being approved for medical use, their side-effects (such as addiction, overdose, and death), although being similar to that of illegal drugs, have often been underestimated. Lack of education and the low level of public awareness, together with the negligence of pharmaceutical companies and health care providers, have facilitated the fast growth of abuse and addiction rates. The modern national and local strategies of dealing with the opioid crisis should focus on education initiatives aimed at both patients and health care professionals to prevent prescription drug abuse.
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Education initiatives should be the primary concern because the lack of education both among patients and health care professionals is one of the main causes of the misuse and abuse of prescription drugs. According to the Food and Drug Administration, doctors and pharmacists often prescribe or dispense powerful painkillers, such as morphine, codeine, and oxycodone, inappropriately, without informing patients of potential side effects (qtd. in Johnson). Most of them receive little training on the importance of proper handling of opioids and recognizing and preventing addiction in their patients (Haerens and Zott). Most medical schools do not provide in-depth training on substance abuse outside of specialty addiction treatment programs. The more accessible drugs are, the more people develop dependencies, and it should be the responsibility of every health professional to handle powerful painkillers responsibly.
Similarly, lack of patient education results in people underestimating the dangers of opioid drugs used to treat mild and severe pain. Patients tend to think that prescription drugs are safe because they are legal, and their misuse does not lead to severe consequences, such as health problems, addiction, and even death (Haerens and Zott). The most common problems include giving opioid painkillers to family members for whom they were not prescribed, leaving them in open medicine cabinets, and using prescription medication in a way that was not intended. With opioid drugs being safe and effective when used properly, their irresponsible usage results in addictions as harmful as those of people using illegal drugs. Having started with prescription opioids and developed a dependency, an estimated 4 to 6 percent of patients switch to heroin use (Haerens and Zott). The lack of education both among patients and health care professionals causes an increase in abuse and addiction rates.
To address the problem, a number of strategies have been designed that involve various education initiatives to be implemented on the state and local levels. The first is education programs directed at patients and members of their families. They include community education programs, media campaigns, and education materials distributed in hospitals and pharmacies. Their main goal is to introduce methods of informing patients how to safely use, store, and dispose of opioids to prevent possible side effects in patients and abuse of drugs within their families (“Current Challenges in Education Research for Opioid Abuse Prevention”). Understanding the risks of developing an addiction or endangering their families’ health is the key to the more responsible usage of opioid painkillers.
The second objective in the prevention of prescription drug addiction is the education of medical professionals. It involves training practitioners on the proper prescription of opioids and addressing the signs of dependence, development of education materials, introduction of education programs in medical schools, and development of clinical guidelines for opioid prescription (Haerens and Zott). These initiatives should be supported by the implementation of medical policies that restrict opioid medication only for serious pain-related problems. Understanding the risks of opioid prescription encourages a more responsible attitude among health professionals.
With most initiatives being introduced on the state level, local communities also play an important role. In the 2015 article by Trudeau, she explores the role of local anti-drug coalitions in prescription drug abuse prevention and argues that they provide an effective means of handling the issue within communities. They include public education campaigns, drug monitoring programs, and collaborative initiatives with local businesses and health care companies. Their effectiveness is based on a profound understanding of local needs, the knowledge of drug abuse prevention resources, and the power of influence (Trudeau). Community members working together within a coalition can maximize their resources, increase their reach across the community, have greater credibility and provide more information-sharing opportunities. Education starts in schools, hospitals, and public places, and its continuity can be achieved by collaborative efforts of local communities, medical institutions, and the federal government.
With the main cause of prescription drug addiction being the lack of education among both patients and health professionals, the measures aimed at increasing public and professional awareness should be considered the main priority. Proper education of health care specialists allows them to handle opioid prescriptions responsibly and inform their patients on potential side effects and the risks of developing an addiction. Patient education strategies involve instructing them on safe usage, storage, and disposal of opioids, and opioid overdose training. Collaborative efforts of the federal government, local communities and anti-drug coalitions, the medical community, and health care organizations are the key to reducing prescription drug addiction rates. The issue should be of primary concern on the national and local levels because it poses a significant threat to public health and has a severe impact on the lives of many people.
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“Current Challenges in Educational Research for Opioid Abuse Prevention.” Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education, vol. 61, no. 1, 2017. Gale in Context: Opposing Viewpoints, Web.
Haerens, Margaret, and Lynn M. Zott, editors. “Education Is Key in Fighting Prescription Drug Abuse.” Prescription Drug Abuse, Greenhaven Press, 2013. Gale in Context: Opposing Viewpoints, Web.
Johnson, Teddi Dineley. “Federal Action Plan to Fight Prescription Drug Abuse Released.” The Nation’s Health, vol. 41, no. 5, 2011. Gale in Context: Opposing Viewpoints, Web.
Trudeau, Kimberly. “Development of a Community Readiness Survey for Coalitions to Address Prescription Opioid Misuse.” Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education, vol. 59, no. 3, 2015. Gale in Context: Opposing Viewpoints, Web.