The country is finally starting to take notice of the severity of the current opioid painkiller epidemic, which is responsible for record breaking numbers of drug overdose and overdose deaths. This year, several states have declared opioid addiction a public health emergency. Additionally, several states have filed lawsuits against the biggest names in Big Pharma, citing fraudulent marketing tactics and deception. Florida, one of the hardest hit by the epidemic, is tightening the reigns on doctors’ ability to prescribe opioids and completely overhauling its statewide prescription database. Now, doctors and hospitals have devised a comprehensive plan to fight the addiction epidemic in Colorado while still treating pain effectively.
After a series of government and mainstream media events, such as a new study published by the New York Times measuring the scale of opioid overdose, which was the highest rate ever recorded, state governments and hospitals are scrambling to change their pain treatment methods. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recently posted new guidelines for opioid prescriptions and even the Food and Drug Administration ordered the removal of a powerful opioid from the market, Opana ER.
These actions have come under fire by some while also gaining significant praise. Many doctors look at the drugs as possibly the only effective method in treating severe chronic pain, while other doctors insist the drugs are used too often and rarely are necessary. Dr. Don Stader is one of the medical professionals who strongly supports pain management overhaul and helped develop new standards to fight the addiction epidemic in Colorado. He believes most pain can be treated with several other methods opposed to opioids and views opioids as just one tool in the toolbox. He was not always this way though.
The Gateway To Illicit Drugs and Addiction
It is no question that prescription opioids act as a gateway to street drugs like heroin. Most heroin addicts admit that their addiction first started with prescription opioids, which later led them to cheaper and more potent alternatives. This should not come as a shock because the active chemicals in prescription painkillers are the exact same chemicals in heroin. That being said, not all pain patients develop addiction, but the risk and correlation is certainly very high. The simple recognition of this fact is what’s leading the way
Dr. Stader was once a doctor that commonly prescribed opioids for even mild to moderate pain. In his eyes, it was the easiest and most effective way to stop pain in its tracks. That was until he talked with a patient he had revived from a lethal overdose of heroin. He reported his story to The Denver Post and described his first realization of the massive risk associated with opioid prescriptions. The patient, a 21-year-old female, who had been excelling in college and otherwise successful, described how her addiction all started with a simple prescription she received for a sprained ankle. This disturbed Dr. Stader greatly because he had prescribed opioids for a sprained ankle earlier that day. He then had an epiphany on how to fight the addiction epidemic in Colorado.
Several years later, Dr. Stader has been a monumental policy developer in the fight against the addiction epidemic in Colorado. Stader, along with with the Colorado Hospital Association and the American College of Emergency Physicians, has developed a specific plan that not only limits opioids to combat addiction, but also maintains effective treatment plans to manage pain.
The program combines several ideas and guidelines for pain management and addiction treatment. It recommends hospitals and doctors to leave opioids as a last resort and instead first prescribe non-narcotic painkillers in conjunction with appropriate therapies and/or over-the-counter remedies. At Stader’s hospital, Swedish Medical Center, opioid prescriptions have already been reduced 30% and is rising.
In addition to limiting opioid prescriptions, the program also has specific suggestions to fight the addiction epidemic in Colorado by helping already addicted individuals. The program recommends that hospitals treating overdoses or opioid dependent individuals immediately prescribe buprenorphine (Suboxone) in order to help the patient detox. Before, most doctors would just recommend addiction treatment and/or lecture about the dangers of heroin or opioid misuse. Now, the state specifically encourages doctors to take the matter into their own hands and begin addiction treatment immediately.
Rather than banning opioids or increases criminal offenses, to fight the addiction epidemic in Colorado, the state has decided to attack the epidemic at its source without leaving patients in pain. Hopefully, Colorado will prove to set a logical and moral standard for reducing addiction. Patients still deserve to be pain-free, but at the same time, they do not deserve to be exposed to unnecessary medications with high risks of addiction.
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