America is in the middle of a drug overdose crisis. 70,000 people died of opioid overdoses in the United States in 2017. Communities have been devastated and entire families have been wiped out. A new person becomes physically dependent on opioids every minute. The very nature of opioids’ effects, which include poor judgment and the need to take more and more of the drug to get high, make overdoses likelier the longer an individual takes the medications. These problems may seem like the inevitable side effect of individuals living longer and dealing with more chronic conditions. But the opioid epidemic, which in many ways has been mainly American, is actually the result of medical and policy decisions that can eventually be reversed.
The roots of the problem
The opioid crisis stems from a number of factors rooted in American society. One of these is the connection between hospitals and pharmaceutical companies. These companies have more power and influence in the United States than they do in practically any other country. Drug manufacturers sometimes have close relationships with doctors. They take doctors on high-priced speaking engagements and pay money to aid their medical facilities. This money creates an unavoidable conflict of interest between the drug manufacturer and the doctor. The doctor feels compelled to continue prescribing a particular drug to as many people as possible.
Another problem that has led to the drug overdose crisis is the lack of pharmaceutical regulations in the United States. There are few regulations pertaining to marketing and prescribing drugs. Individuals who are addicted to prescription painkillers can easily receive those painkillers from willing medical professionals. Their eventual overdose could result from their doctors and the unwillingness of the government to take actions that would control the activities of their doctors. This problem is much less prominent in other countries that have government-run health systems. In many of those countries, any marketing of particular privately-developed drugs is illegal.
How to solve it
The first step that must be taken to reduce the drug overdose epidemic is to reduce the power of pharmaceutical companies to influence people and doctors to buy drugs. Pharmaceutical companies must be prevented from advertising new drugs on television and paying stipends to doctors across the country. Next, medical professionals must receive incentives to prescribe drugs other than opioids if possible.
In some cases, NSAID pain relievers and steroids can be just as effective at pain relief as opioids. At the same time, individuals who are dependent on opioids must continue to receive them in some form or fashion. These individuals will simply turn to the black market if they can no longer acquire these drugs legally. Such steps will require government intervention and investment on a large scale.
The opioid and drug overdose crisis will most likely continue for the next few years. It is too massive and pervasive a problem to be solved overnight. Americans need strong, significant actions to be taken in order to reduce the nation’s dependency on these dangerous drugs and greatly decrease their death toll. Planning, policy changes, and significant regulations will be the only factor that ends up stopping the drug overdose crisis for good.
Learn more about Drug Safety News.