Rise in Heroin use – Is It the Doctor’s Fault?

February 20, 2015

Researchers from the University of North Florida, Brandeis University and Johns Hopkins University believe that physicians may be to blame for the rise of heroin use along with the use of other opioids. The findings indicate that though painkiller abuse has declined since 2002, the rate of overdoses caused by prescription painkillers has increased. They believe these results suggest that those who use painkillers here and there may not be the problem. Instead, the issue lies with physicians who may be prescribing this medication too liberally. The findings were published in the Annual Review of Public Health.

“I think we have overestimated the benefits of prescription opioids and underestimated their risks,” study co-author Caleb Alexander, PhD, of Johns Hopkins University, noted. “Although opioids have many risks, their addictive potential is of especially great concern.”

The researchers believe that policymakers should note these concerns and make changes to the way that these medications are prescribed, as well as figure out new ways to provide better opioid treatment.

“Since 2007, the number of people seeking treatment for an addiction to opioids has increased by 900 percent.”

Harrowing facts and figures
The researchers believe that more people are becoming addicted to the prescription painkillers that they are being prescribed, and are subsequently moving on to heroin use when they cannot afford to pay for the medication anymore or their script runs out. Addiction to painkillers is coming at a high cost – since 2007, the number of people seeking treatment for an addiction to opioids has increased by 900 percent.

The U.S. Centers for Disease control and Prevention noted that out of all drugs currently on the market, prescription painkillers are quickly becoming the most damaging. Approximately 3 out of 4 of pharmaceutical overdoses are caused by prescription painkillers. In 2008, these medications caused more overdose deaths than cocaine and heroin combined, killing about 14,800 people. For each death in the U.S., there are 825 people using these substances nonmedically, meaning they do not have a legal prescription to use the medication. Many of these painkillers are prescribed by primary care physicians. However, it seems that certain doctors are doing more work than others – about 20 percent of physicians prescribe about 80 percent of the nation’s prescriptions.

The study authors believe this type of addiction should be treated similarly to a disease outbreak. The researchers suggested that like any other epidemic, they need to prevent new cases from popping up and treat those who are already addicted to these habit-forming substances.

Taking a closer look
The review also discussed how to educate the public on the dangers of opioid use and how to create a better implementation of state monitoring programs that watch how often patients are being prescribed these types of medications, and who is prescribing them the most. These programs can also identify “doctor shopping,” which is when patients use multiple physicians so they can have more than one prescription for a drug.

“By encouraging and, if necessary, requiring prescribers to use PDMPs, and by pro-actively sending them prescription data on their patients, states can help medical providers intervene at an early stage of addiction and get patients who need it into treatment,” study author John Eadie of Brandeis University stated.

The researchers noted that certain medications that fight opioid addiction and prevent opioid overdose, buprenorphine and naloxone, should be readily available to the public. This group mainly includes family members of those with an addiction, first responders and people who are part of a syringe exchange program.

The researchers noted that certain medications that fight opioid addiction and prevent opioid overdose, buprenorphine and naloxone, should be readily available to the public. This group mainly includes family members of those with an addiction, first responders and people who are part of a syringe exchange program.

The study authors concluded that in the past, people have looked to other factors aside from opioid addiction to blame for the epidemic. However, the researchers believe that with the right treatment process, which includes three different approaches, policymakers will be able to steer the public in the right direction away from opioid abuse and overdose.

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