Grand Futures: What you need to know about painkillers
Since the U.S. saw a dramatic increase in the number of prescriptions written for natural and semi-synthetic opioids (OxyContin, methadone, codeine, etc.), we have been battling an epidemic. This problem was made worse by the introduction of synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, into the market in 2013, which caused a third wave of deaths in the epidemic since they are much stronger than naturally occurring opiates and are more prone to being illegally manufactured.
In fact, in 2018, close to 70% of overdose-related deaths involved an opioid. If opioids are such dangerous medications, you might wonder why doctors continue to prescribe them at high rates.
One reason is that large pharmaceutical companies mislead about the safety of their products to gain more sales. Purdue Pharma, makers of OxyContin, falsely stated in a massive marketing campaign that their product has a risk of dependency less than 1%, when the real rate is 10 times higher.
In addition to false claims, pharmaceutical companies often find ways to incentivize doctors to prescribe pricier, name-brand medications rather than generic iterations. In 2015, roughly half of physicians in the U.S. received money from the pharmaceutical and medical devices industry, a sum totaling $2.4 billion.
So, how can parents help fight the epidemic and prevent their youth from abusing prescription opioids? Here are a few ways:
- Talk to your doctor about alternatives to prescription opioids. Most addiction to painkillers starts with an injury or a surgery that requires a prescription. Several studies show a combination of acetaminophen and ibuprofen are more effective at managing pain than any prescription painkiller on the market. The Colorado state legislature has proposed a bill that would require health benefit plans to cover non-pharmacological forms of pain treatment.
- Purchase a medication lockbox to keep in your home. This will keep any medication with potential for abuse out of the hands of the other family members.
- Drop off any unused medication at the designated drug take-back locations. These can be permanent locations, such as hospital/clinic pharmacies and law enforcement facilities, or periodic events held in your community. Keep an eye out in the news for such events.
- Have open, honest conversations with your youth about the risks and harms of prescription painkillers. Addiction is serious and many youths think they are impervious to risks associated with prescription drug use. By providing youth with information surrounding opioids, they will be better prepared to make healthy decisions for themselves.
For more resources on prescription opioids, visit grandfutures.org.
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