Opioid Abuse: New Policies Offer Hope, But Not Much Else

SciShort_1_28_16Opioid use and abuse has exploded across the country in the last two decades. New research from OSU, in conjunction with Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU), attempts to quantify the effects of the policies put in place to combat this rise. And the results aren’t quite anything to celebrate.

Opioids are drugs which act on the brain in a manner similar to opiates (like morphine) but are usually not actually derived from opium. Among the most popularly abused of the opioids are oxycodone and hydrocodone. Abuse of these drugs in some places (particularly in the Pacific Northwest, the Midwest, and the South) have led to them being dubbed “hillbilly heroin” and the results are stunning: a 600% rise in their use across the country in the last 20 years, and an increase in opioid overdose-related deaths of up to 17 times in places like Washington.

The new study from OSU and OHSU, which followed 514 patients who had been prescribed opioids, showed that tapering patients off the drugs and increased counseling measures did show improved results in getting patients off the dangerous drugs, usually prescribed for pain medication. But it wasn’t as much as had been hoped for.

“The approach used in this study showed progress, but not enough,” said Dr. Melissa Weimer in a press release. She’s an assistant professor of medicine at Oregon Health & Science University who worked on the study. She continued, “We’d rather have a higher success rate. But in some cases we’re dealing with a generation of patients who have been prescribed high-dose opioids for many years.”

Part of the problem stems from patients being overprescribed the drugs in the 80s with little to no warning of the dangers. Now many of these chronic pain patients are multiple decades into a constant regimen of the drugs.

Weimer went so far as to describe the opioid abuse problem in this country as an “epidemic.”

Sobering news indeed.

By Sidney Reilly