Opioid epidemic causes devastating consequences which include increased opioid misuse, related overdoses, and increased incidence of withdrawal syndrome experienced by the newborns due to opioid misuse during pregnancy.
The opioid use disorder (OUD), overdose and addiction have become a public health and socioeconomic crisis in recent years. It causes chronic illness involving diverted or misuse of prescribed opioids or illegally obtained ones.
Opioids include both natural and synthetic substances that interact with the opioid neuroreceptors. Natural opioids include opiates like morphine or codeine. Synthetic opioids include tramadol, fentanyl. Semisynthetic substances include oxycodone and hydrocodone and heroin, the illegal derivative of morphine. All these forms are highly addictive and can be misused which ultimately results in overuse or death.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says 10.3 million Americans in 2018 misused opioids.
The abuse of opioids is not new as it has existed for centuries. In the United States, the first drug abuse policy was passed in 1914, named as the “Harrison Narcotics Tax Act”. A century and many failed policies later, the U.S. has become in the grip of the epidemic. The U.S. is not alone in fighting against the opioid crisis.
The prescription drug abuse is common in several countries including Canada, Australia, and China, Saudia Arabis, Lebanon. Surveys found high rates of non-medical usage among youngsters throughout Europe, including the UK and Spain.
Opioid use disorder is a situation when addictive opioid drugs become misused or overused with significant medical, economic and social consequences. Its overdose can be easily identified by the combination of its three symptoms known as the “opioid overdose triad”. The symptoms are:
- Respiratory depression
- Pinpoint pupils
As opioid abuse has escalated and evolved for more than a century, it causes tens of thousands of deaths annually in the United States. The CDC estimated that its overdoses are responsible for 67,000 overdose deaths every year in the U.S.
A renowned spine surgeon, David Hanscom M.D., said the opioid epidemic is becoming worse. He urged careful prescribing practices but efforts to reduce prescribing opioids are making it worse as it is not the solution for this epidemic.
Before quitting his surgical practice to teach medical practitioners and patients how to treat chronic pain, he was regularly called in for spine surgery that damaged from infections acquired through contaminated needles. After refusing the use of low-level opioids which cured their pain for years, they turned to intravenous heroin and ultimately bacteria seeded their spine from the bloodstream. He saw the burgeoning problem.
Hanscom shared the four ways to solve the issue of chronic pain and control opioid use disorder. He provided global solutions to global problems. He said:
- Why a physician should first solve the chronic pain issue. Satirically, medical research has found clear solutions that mainstream medicine is not carrying out.
- Turning to opioids becomes a mental pain for a person instead of physical pain.
- The role played by family dynamics is ignored. Physicians must spend more time with their patients, listen to them and focus on their real-life issues.
- We should make best practices for the treatment of chronic pain, practices which not just mask the symptoms and must be available to every person.
This revolutionary approach can be helpful in controlling the global opioid epidemic.