Are Doctors Aware They Are Causing The Opioid Epidemic In The United States?
According to the CDC, “more people died from drug overdoses in 2014 than in any year on record”, and “more than 6 out of 10 of those overdose deaths involve an opioid”. Most surprising is that “at least half of all opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid”, meaning that the drugs were obtained legally through a valid prescription by a doctor.
In a recent episode of Straight Talk MD, Dr. Frank Sweeny interviewed Anna Lembke, author of “Drug Dealer MD”, a book that examines the opioid epidemic in the United States. She explains how the U.S. healthcare system is a driving force behind this epidemic:
“Are doctors in general aware that they’re the source of this prescription drug epidemic?”
“You know, it’s a great question because you really can’t read a major newspaper or listen to media without some story about the horrible epidemic, people dying of accidental overdoses, people turning to heroin because they can’t get their pills from their doctors anymore, or whatever it is. It’s hard to imagine that there’s a doctor in the country who’s not aware, but you know what? There are a lot. And they keep prescribing. It’s unfathomable.
What my book tries to get at is, Why? How can that be? Because it’s still happening. In 2011, the CDC declared to the nation that we were in the midst of a prescription drug epidemic. Now, that’s their job, like they announce when there’s a tuberculosis epidemic or an HIV epidemic. So, here they say in 2011, we are in the midst of a prescription drug epidemic and it is driven by doctors overprescribing. Ok, that’s 2011. In 2014, doctors write a record high number of prescriptions for opioids. What’s going on here?”
"As much as 50% of patients who receive an opioid long-term for a chronic pain condition will develop some kind of addiction or addictive behaviors around that drug."
There’s a disconnect here. The reason I say that is because, a lot of time, I don’t think they’re hearing that second part of it. There’s a prescription drug epidemic, but a lot of them just come to the conclusion that this is a diversion. You know, people sharing pills, selling pills and so on. No, a lot of these patients, from what you’ve written here, over 80% of them or so, started out with the gateway drug being from a prescription by a doctor.
Absolutely. The other thing that I think is a myth and a misconception among a lot of doctors, is that people who get addicted to prescription drugs were already addicts anyway. If they hadn’t found prescription drugs, they would have used alcohol, or they would have found something else. But what they don’t realize is how much iatrogenic addiction is going on. By that I mean, how many people actually come in with no history of addiction, get put on a prescription that’s addictive by a doctor, and become addicted because of that prescription. That’s a huge number. Some studies show as high as 50%, as much as 50% of patients who receive an opioid long-term for a chronic pain condition will develop some kind of addiction or addictive behaviors around that drug. That’s just a startling number.