Opiate addiction can happen in the blink of an eye.

A waiter burns his hand on boiling water while on the job. His employer sends him to the emergency room, just to be on the safe side. His hand is treated topically, and he is given a prescription for Vicodin.

In this case, the waiter did not need an opioid prescription for his pain. Sure, his hand hurt like crazy, but it was nothing that wouldn’t have subsided in a few days. The pain could have easily been mitigated with an over-the-counter painkiller.

Instead, he is given three weeks worth of an opiate painkiller without even asking for such strong medicine. He’s not going to turn it down.
Without his realizing it, opiate dependence is about to creep into his life.

Scenarios like the one above played themselves out in countless emergency rooms and doctors offices all over America for decades. Such was the culture of opiate treatment in America that, for much of the past twenty years, opiates like Vicodin, Percocet and OxyContin have been prescribed far too readily by doctors across the nation. The end result has been widespread opiate addiction, which did not have to occur.

That culture is shifting.

Opiate Addiction Reaches Epidemic Proportions

Opiate addiction has definitely gone mainstream, in terms of public awareness. Many celebrities have had well-publicized battles with opiate addiction and opiate withdrawal. Nearly everyone in America probably knows somebody who has battled–or is currently battling–addiction to prescription painkillers, if they haven’t become addicted to opiates themselves.

The numbers are staggering. According to the Centers of Disease Control (CDC):

  • At least ten thousand Americans have died every year between 1999 and 2014 as a result of overdoses from opiate prescription medication,
  • At least 165,000 died during that span in total
  • Over 1,000 people are treated every day at emergency rooms for misusing prescription opioids
  • Around twenty-five percent of people who receive prescription opioids long term for non-cancer pain in primary care settings will suffer from some level of opioid addiction

A huge part of the problem was the ease in which opiate painkillers were prescribed in emergency rooms and doctors’ offices around the country. Opiates were prescribed far too easily for levels of pain that simply didn’t require such medicine, as pharmaceutical companies encouraged physicians to prescribe their opiate-based drugs for common conditions, such as back and knee pain.

That culture is changing, largely because opiate addiction was considered by health care professionals to have reached epidemic levels.

“The urgency of the epidemic [and] its devastating consequences demands interventions,” Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, told the New York Times. “In some instances it may make it harder for some patients to get their medication. We need to set up a system to make sure they are covered, but we cannot continue the prescription practice of opioids the way we have been. We just can’t.”

Opiate Treatment on the Decline

Indeed, the number of opioid-based prescriptions has dropped significantly in the past few years in nearly every state in the country. There are number of reasons for the decline. One is simply public awareness – the public at large is far more aware of opiate addiction than ever before and they see prescription painkillers as dangerous drugs. These painkillers are also known to lead to illegal drug use, such as heroin, which can be cheaper and easier to get than its prescribed cousins.

Another reason is education. Medical students at universities across the country are being given specific educational training on the dangers of opiate addiction. Whereas an older generation of physicians may not have viewed opiate addiction as a big deal, the newer generation of doctors is being trained to resist handing out opiate-based prescriptions. Some ERs around the country are leading the way with opioid reduction protocols that include non-opioid pain medications and alternative pain management, such as therapy and acupuncture.

Additionally, a new federal law passed in 2014 limits the number of prescriptions and refills of oxycodone-based medicines such as Vicodin. Doctors can no longer phone in prescriptions for such medicine, and refills can only be attained in person with a follow-up visit to a physician.

Getting Help for Opiate Addiction

Opiate addiction has reached epidemic proportions in this country. Thankfully, there is help available. Cornerstone Recovery Center’s experienced addiction counselors are on hand to assist those who may be struggling with opiate painkiller addiction. Call us directly at 888-711-0354 or contact us online to speak with one of our admission specialists.