Understanding Pain Management and the Opioid Epidemic

This month brought the much-anticipated episode of the Roseanne reboot, leaving everyone wondering how they would kill off this controversial character. Turns out, Roseanne’s character fatally overdosed on opioids that she became addicted to after having knee surgery. In true Hollywood fashion, they explained her death away conveniently with just the right dose of comedic timing and serious moments.

While this is, after all, just a sitcom and the real Roseanne is alive and well, this episode just barely scratched the surface of the real opioid crisis going on in America. Truth is, every day in this country, more than 115 people perish after overdosing on opioids arising from the misuse of anything from prescription pain killers to heroin to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.

This serious national crisis affects not just public health but social and economic welfare as well. The CDC says the total financial burden of prescription opioid misuse alone in the U.S. is more than $78 billion per year. This includes the costs of health care, reduced productivity, addiction treatment, and law enforcement involvement.

How did we get here? In the 1990s, pharmaceutical companies did all they could to reassure patients that they would not become addicted to prescription opioid pain relievers. As a result, doctors began prescribing them at greater rates, leading to widespread misuse of these medications before it became clear, all too late, that these medications are indeed highly addictive. That’s when opioid overdose rates really began to rise.

Now, the country’s hospitals, medical centers, and walk-ins are being flooded with those seeking help with their opioid-related issues. In fact, in just one year, about 1.3 million Americans sought hospital care for their opioid-related health problems. That doesn’t even count the thousands found on the streets every day overdosing on opioids, many of whom need products like Narcan to avoid dying on the spot.

Getting Help for the Truly Needy

It becomes harder and harder for healthcare providers to ascertain who’s a drug seeker and who truly suffers from chronic pain and needs the medication to cope on a daily basis. There’s a fine line, and healthcare providers at all levels are trying to balance that line at work every single day.

About 50 million Americans, more than 20 percent of the adult population, suffer from chronic pain, with 20 million of them having “high-impact chronic pain” which is severe enough to limit life or work activities. Many of them are prescribed opioids by their doctors to manage the pain, often becoming addicted over time. In response to the opioid crisis, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the NIH, and other agencies are looking at major priorities to ensure better management of these potentially dangerous medications, including:

  1. Improved access to treatment and recovery services
  2. Promotion of overdose-reversing drugs, such as Narcan
  3. Better public health surveillance to better understand the epidemic
  4. Support for cutting-edge research on pain and addiction
  5. Better practices for pain management
  6. Safe, effective yet non-addictive solutions to managing chronic pain
  7. Use of the latest medications and technologies to treat opioid use disorders

Awareness seems to be working, at least from the healthcare provider’s perspective. Between 2013 and 2017, there has been a 22 percent decrease in opioid prescriptions nationally as doctors also remain sensitive to those who truly need pain medication in conjunction with other approaches.

Contact Comprehensive MedPsych Systems

Comprehensive MedPsych Systems offers psychological evaluations for those who suffer from chronic pain, helping to distinguish medical and physical effects, psychiatric symptoms, and personality considerations that are often related to chronic pain syndrome. Without proper evaluation and treatment, chronic pain can worsen and lead to pain medication addiction if not kept in check. Contact Comprehensive MedPsych Systems to learn how we can help.