Pain Medication Addiction: CDC Issues New Guidelines
After a car wreck or other accident, people often suffer painful injuries. In an effort to relieve their pain, accident victims will often visit their local hospital or family doctor. These medical providers often prescribe the accident victim opioid pain medication. However, the availability of these pain medications for accident and other pain causes is necessarily changing.
Pain Medications: Huge Profits for Drug Companies
Over the past 20 years, doctors have increasingly prescribed ain medications to injured patients. In 1996, OxyContin, produced by Purdue Pharma, was introduced onto the market. In that year, Purdue Pharma made over $45 million on OxyContin. Purdue then doubled the size of its sales force and encouraged doctors to prescribe the use of the drug. By 2000, only four years later, Purdue was making approximately $1.1 billion from Oxytocin.
Other drug manufactures noticed Purdue’s success with OxyContin and also increased their marketing efforts of their pain medications. These medications included Tramadol, Hydrocodone, Vicodin, and Methadone. A CNBC report found that Insys, a large pharmaceutical company, saw its stock sore over 600% upon the release of its pain killer, Subsys, a spray containing a high concentration of Fentanyl. Although the FDA had approved the drug only for cancer patients, Insys drug representatives reported that they were directed to encourage family doctors to prescribe the pain medication for a wide range of other patients, including patients injured in car wrecks or work place accidents.
Nora Vokow, MD, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, reported before the U.S. Senate in 2014 that Hydrocodone prescriptions increased from 25 million prescriptions in 1999 to over 124 million prescriptions in 2013. She attributed pharmaceutical marketing efforts to much of the rise.
In order to protect their profits, pharmaceutical companies funded patient advocacy groups to lobby legislators to increase the availability of their company’s drugs.
In a March 15, 2016 article, the New York Times reported that big pharmaceutical companies were currently raking in $2 billion in profits from pain medications. Link!
Addiction: Result of Excessive Use of Pain Medications
The result of the vast influx of pain medications into the American population has been a drug addiction epidemic. Dr. Vokow reported that opioid pain medication affects a person’s brain in much of the same manner as heroine or morphine. The pain medication attaches itself to specific proteins the nerve cells of the brain reducing the sensation of pain while providing a sense of well-being. The brain then provides pleasure feelings to the patient for taking the drug. The body produces its own pleasure enhancing chemicals called endorphins, but opioid pain medication reduces the production of these natural pleasure-inducing chemicals. A person who stops taking the opioid drug then feels withdrawal symptoms when they discontinue the pain medication’s use.
Repeated use of the pain medication results in a tolerance for the pain medication. the patient then needs higher doses of the medication to feel good .
As pain medications become less effective to an addict, the addict often turns to heroine. Heroine can be cheaper and easier to acquire in some communities than pain medications. In Asheville, the Asheville police department has noted a direct correlation between lower pill seizures and higher heroine usage.
Addiction can also be fatal. Buncombe County, NC saw 252 deaths due to opiate medication overdoses between 1999 and 2013. North Carolina also has higher overdose rates than the country as a whole. Almost all overdose deaths involve prescription pain medications according to Project Lazarus, a NC overdose prevention agency. 2014 was a record year for overdoses nationally. 28,647 persons died from prescription pain medication and heroin overdoses.
CDC Issues New Guidelines
In an effort to combat these alarming trends, the Center for Disease Control has issued new guidelines to physicians in the prescribing of pain medications. The CDC now recommends that patients be screened for drug use prior to the administration of pain medications.. In addition, patients should be checked in prescription abuse tracking systems prior to being provided with pain medications.
When an injured person consults a doctor, the CDC recommends that the doctor first prescribe ibuprofen, aspirin, or even ice to treat the pain. If opioid pain medication is used, then the guidelines recommend only for a three (3) day period. Currently, doctors often write two to four weeks of pain medication.
Pharmaceutical companies, sensing a loss of their profits, have threated to sue the CDC over the new guidelines. Although the guidelines are not mandatory, insurance companies may use them to deny claims for medication beyond the recommended time periods. Additionally, doctors may wish to abide by the recommendations in order to avoid malpractice or other claims.
In any event, the reduction in the use of opioid pain medication is a welcome change to assist in the fight against the epidemic of drug abuse. In the long run, accident and injury victims will be safer as a result of the new guidelines as their risk for addiction will be decreased. For more information about the CDC guidelines, visit CDC Morbidity and Mortality Report Weekly.