Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Opioid Epidemic: Three Things Families Should Know


The New York Times recently reported that drug overdose deaths in 2016 most likely exceeded 59,000, the largest annual jump ever recorded in the United States. The article attributes this terrifying statistic to an escalating public health crisis: opioid addiction, now made more deadly by an influx of fentanyl and similar drugs. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans under 50.

How can you keep your loved ones safe? Here are three facts about the opioid crisis that families need to know:

1. In many cases, illegal heroin and fentanyl use begins with the abuse of legally prescribed painkillers.  As described in The Economist, opioids can be divided into three broad groups. First, are legitimate painkillers, such as OxyContin, which is FDA-approved and even eligible for prescription savings. Heavily prescribed since the 1990s, some of these pills were abused by people who defeated their slow-release mechanisms by crushing and then snorting or injecting them. The second group consists of powerful synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl and carfentanil. These have legitimate medical uses, but are often manufactured illegally and smuggled into America. The third opioid is heroin, derived from opium poppies, almost all of it illegally.

Too often, abuse begins innocently enough – a middle-aged woman with chronic back pain begins regularly using legally prescribed opioid pain medication. She may find that over time, she needs more and more to feel better. Then when her prescription runs out, she discovers that she can’t get through the day without it and turns to illegal options, like fentanyl or heroin.

Sadly, it is just as likely that her teenage son may get his hands on her prescribed medication, taking “just a few pills for a party.” His addiction will then often follow the same path, until his life is consumed by his need for the drugs.

2. The opioid epidemic is not an urban problem or a “bad people” problem. The Economist also reports that deaths are highest in the Midwest and Northeast, among middle-aged men, and among Caucasians. Some of the worst-affected counties are rural. As Bruce Y. Lee, a Forbes.com contributor put it, “Science will help everyone understand that opioid addiction is not ‘bad people doing bad things.’... It's not as if more and more people around the country since the '90s have decided to turn bad. The opioid epidemic is a systems problem.” Because the danger is the drug itself and how it affects the brain, it is critical for all families to work to prevent drug addiction.

3. If you face chronic pain, there are alternatives to opioids. Before you accept a prescription for any pain medication, ask about what kind it is and what your options are. Short-term use of opioids can be safe, but if you have school-age children in the house or expect to be taking your medication for an extended period of time, it is worth asking about addiction risk and other alternatives.

Unfortunately, sometimes opioid alternatives are not covered by some health insurances. That is where FamilyWize can help. Our Free Rx Prescription Discount Card enables everyone, both insured and uninsured, to save on their prescription medications, with average savings of around 40 percent. Learn more at FamilyWize.org.

To learn more about the opioid epidemic, please visit the CDC website – Understanding the Epidemic.

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