It’s rare that drug use is declared a nationwide epidemic, but that’s what’s happened in the era of opioid addiction. Opioids in themselves are natural and derived from the poppy plant. Poppies are the foundation for heroin, but opioids are inherently stronger and faster-acting. That’s why veteran heroin users overdose at a comparatively higher rate than non-users. They have no way to gauge the strength of a drug they thought they knew well. There are also opiates, which is a man-made and synthetic form of an opioid. It is equally as dangerous and addictive.
However, it isn’t reasonable or healthy for us to avoid modern medicine and drug use altogether in the midst of an epidemic. Instead, a changing of priorities is in order. Considering alternative and conservative methods first, before prescription drugs, is a step in the right direction. However, every doctor is different. There’s no way to know how conservative (or not) a doctor may be when you first meet them.
There’s also the issue of “addictive personalities.” Some people are much more prone to addiction than others, and this is often hereditary. In some cases, a patient might not know that they are prone to addiction until it’s too late. The vast majority of opioid addicts began with genuine prescription opioids that came with excess refills. Opioids were designed to be used for short-term pain relief, such as recovering from a surgery. However, research has shown that some doctors readily prescribed opioids for long-term chronic pain. It’s virtually impossible to be prescribed such an addictive drug for months (and sometimes even indefinitely) without developing dependency at best and an addiction at worst.
Some opioid addicts who suddenly found themselves without their prescription sought out their “fix” on the street. However, there’s no telling what a drug really is when it’s not prescribed. Other opioid addicts moved to heroin because it may have been more accessible or affordable.
In some instances, there are organizations pushing for more access to medical marijuana. It’s been shown to be a great replacement for long-term chronic pain management as well as easing the withdrawal symptoms of opioid detoxing. Marijuana is, of course, a type of drug and remains illegal in some states (particularly recreational marijuana). However, what’s interesting is that marijuana wasn’t considered a “drug” and was perfectly legal until the first part of the twentieth century. Marijuana became prohibited in the midst of racist undertones and was originally linked to the incorrect myth that non-whites used this “dangerous drug” to fuel a variety of immoral and illegal activities. Of course, this is far from true, but this damaging language still persists in many current legal documents.
For some patients, medically-assisted treatments are the best course of therapy. However, there are many hurdles in the way ranging from addiction to the high cost of many prescription drugs. From struggles with working with insurance companies to balancing medication management with possible side effects, it can be tough for patients and doctors alike to navigate these murky waters. Doctors are increasingly becoming more aware of the dangers of opioids, and are charged with checking for red flags that a patient may have addictive tendencies.
The Surgeon General recently posted a warning that encouraged everyone to carry the anti-opioid medication. It was recommended that those who are opioid addicts, know them, or work in areas where there are a high rate of addicts should carry Nar-con. This can certainly save lives, but is also a bit of a Band-Aid approach. What’s needed are real, tangible, and legal measures to balancing medication management with the country’s addiction epidemic.
Of course, one of the reasons the opioid addiction has managed to flourish is because it’s profitable for drug manufacturers. Insurance companies and policies are much more likely to pay for medication than they are “alternative” treatment methods whether it’s acupuncture, licensed massage therapy, or treatments like platelet-rich plasma injections. Doctors are hesitant to encourage these treatments because they know it isn’t affordable for patients (and oftentimes it’s not something they themselves can offer). Medication management is easy, fast, and profitable.