The Opioid Crisis: Alternatives and Solutions

The opioid crisis in the United States of America is showing no signs of slowing down and it is imperative that further steps be taken to stymie its progress through communities across the US. The biggest problem with the opioid crisis is that there is no one single clear solution to the issue as there are many factors that contribute to the crisis. However, despite the difficult nature inherent in combatting the opioid crisis, there are still many ways in which medical professionals and everyday citizens can take to the front lines to help prevent this terrible crisis from ravaging the country further.

Education Is Paramount

Opioids are now nigh-ubiquitous across the United States, largely due to the deceptive marketing practices that pharmaceutical companies engaged in over recent years. In many ways, the damage has already been done as there are now hundreds of thousands of American citizens who are fully addicted to these prescription drugs. Disregard for the Hippocratic Oath aside, the simple fact is that there are now prescription painkillers in many homes across America, and the addiction to these drugs supersedes class, color, and creed. 

Fortunately, one of the greatest tools that we have at our disposal when it comes to dealing with the opioid crisis is education and there are tens of thousands across the country willing to do the hard work that comes with it. Nurses are on the frontlines of the opioid epidemic, educating patients on the dangers associated with prescription drug abuse as they are prescribed, and helping families learn how to identify signs of abuse in their loved ones. America owes a tremendous debt to the nurses who are dealing directly with the aftermath of opioid addiction while simultaneously fighting against its spread.

Preventing the initial abuse of opioids is the best way to prevent its continued destruction of communities across the United States. Programs that seek to educate and raise awareness about how the opioid crisis affects individuals, families, and entire towns are paramount to the eventual victory against this deadly crisis. Whether on the local or the national scale, education as to how to combat opioid addiction is a powerful tool to help curb future and current abuse, saving countless lives.

Getting Rid of Old Prescriptions Properly

Part of the reason that opioid abuse is so rampant across the country is due to the overprescription of these drugs by surgeons post-surgery, sometimes at 10 times the recommended prescription according to current guidelines. Aside from the initial risk that this generates for addiction in and of itself, overprescription causes further scenarios where abuse can occur. Even if a patient only takes 10 of the 100 opioid painkillers prescribed to them post-surgery, that simply means that there are now 90 pills that this patient has on hand without knowing what to do with them.

Many don’t know how important the proper storage and disposal of medical waste such as expired or unwanted medication can be. When these prescription painkillers go undisposed of, they can either tempt those that they were prescribed to use them recreationally or can be stolen out of the medicine cabinet by someone else who is battling addiction.

It is very much like having a ticking time bomb sitting only feet away in the bathroom, waiting for someone to come and begin or feed into the cycle of addiction.

Safely disposing of unused or unwanted medicine isn’t particularly difficult, but many people simply don’t know how or where to do so. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has multiple drug takeback sites, programs, and locations where old medication can be safely dropped off. If making it to drug takeback sites is unfeasible, the bulk of opioids are on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ‘flush list’ and can be safely disposed of by promptly flushing the drugs down the toilet.

Treatments and Alternatives for Opioids

For those who are already addicted to opioids, the best chance that they have for recovery can be pharmaceutical as well. Suboxone is an orally administered prescription drug that has been used effectively to treat opioid addiction across the country. Unfortunately, many suffering from addiction to opioids are reticent to reach out for medical treatment fearing that they might face prosecution or become ostracized by friends and family once their addiction is recognized and confronted. While there are always new compounds being developed to manage pain as effectively as opioids without the addictive properties and dangerous side effects, medically assisted treatment is still one of the most effective ways to help someone get help with their addiction.

Another issue with the treatment of opioid addiction in America is the astronomical costs associated with successful treatment. It is estimated that the total cost for treatment of even a single patient addicted to opioids averages $107,000 with the overall cost to hospitals across the country per year exceeding $15 billion. Simply put, there is not only a moral and ethical obligation to prevent further instances of opioid addiction but a fiscal one as well.

Because of the financial burden of seeking treatment combined with the perceived stigma of entering recovery, many suffering from opioid addiction are turning to alternative methods in an attempt to help themselves. Everything from acupuncture to electrical therapy has been utilized to try and combat pain and help battle addiction in those who either can’t or won’t seek out traditional treatment. While not yet available, there is also a system of sensors in development for wearable technology that can help to detect when a user consumes opioids and can help them contact recovery specialists. This is important for those without a support group who are battling addiction alone.

While there is no one solution to the opioid crisis in America, there are many options available to those looking to combat the crisis or get help in their recovery. Whether in the form of education, new alternatives to opioids, or technology that can help with recovery, there is light at the end of the tunnel. It will be a long, difficult road, but it is a journey that must be made.

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Author: Sam L. Bowman
Photo credit: Unsplash

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