Our country has been battling an opioid addiction crisis for nearly 30 years. In the early 1990s, public officials had some justification in blaming patient-prescribed pills as the source of the problem. During that time, physicians increased the number of prescriptions to compensate for undertreatment of pain in patients, and in 1996 Oxycontin was released and vigorously marketed to doctors. Since then, lawmakers and doctors have been trying to find the right balance of regulation and usage among patients, not to mention issues with the drugs finding their way into black markets.
It’s clearer to see in retrospect that policymakers have misjudged possible solutions to the problem by overestimating the patient risk in using prescription drugs. At the same time, they have done very little to encourage and assist clinicians in identifying patients who would be more vulnerable to develop an addiction. In general, they regard drops in opioid prescriptions as a good thing, while in reality, tighter restrictions often prevent many non-addicted patients from getting the opiates they need.
Further clouding the issue is the fact that patients who abuse their pills are often not new to drug use. In the federal government’s 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, it was revealed that more than three-fourths of opioid misusers had previously used non-prescribed benzodiazepines like Valium or Xanax as well as inhalants. Instead of being innocent parties who end up with addiction after being given a prescription, most patients with opioid addiction already have an extensive history of drug use.
Addiction is also a dynamic process. It isn’t something that can be traced to one specific action in one specific moment in time—it usually runs much deeper than, “if only I hadn’t taken that one pill, things would be okay.” Addiction can usually be traced to stressors unique to each individual, such as depression, anxiety, or a seemingly endless variety of concerns that could weigh heavily on one’s thoughts and feelings—being overweight, feeling stuck and frustrated in a job, being able to “come out” to one’s family, etc. When a drug triggers a bodily response that reduces the impact of those stressors, it becomes a seductive alternative to coping with them. This isn’t to say addiction is inevitable at that point, but it’s an indication that the risk is much higher for these individuals.
The problems at the core of the opioid crisis go far beyond the pills themselves. They are much more likely to gain addictive power over people who feel that their use is relieving an inner pain or satisfying an unmet need. So while it has been important to pay attention to the regulation of prescriptions, it is just as important to recognize patients who could be at a greater risk to develop a dependency. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction to opioids, other substances, or alcohol, Contact Ridgeview Ranch (877-526-7706) to speak with one of our clinical professionals about seeking treatment.