According to a report published on Reuters, a new government study has found that more than one-third of adults in the US — nearly 100 million people — were prescribed an opioid in 2015. The statistic is staggering, and provides insight into how the opioid crisis is ruining lives across the country.
Results of the study consisted of data from more than 50,000 participants obtained through face-to-face interviews. Those found to be prescribed opioids most frequently, and thus being put at the most risk, were 50 years of age or older, female, or had no college education.
Millions of adults may also be misusing opioids by taking more than prescribed by a doctor, or using them with no prescription at all, the study found. That kind of rampant mistreatment has contributed to overdose numbers from opioids quadrupling between 1999 and 2015.
Opioids are often seen as a near-instant pain management win because of how they work. But they’re also highly addictive. Though certain institutions have sought alternatives to the powerful drugs for patients on their own, there has been very little government involvement or effort to lead any dramatic change.
Earlier this year, the FDA pursued, and succeeded in forcing, the complete removal of one particular opioid from the market. Opana ER was pulled from shelves more than a decade after the agency gave their approval of the drug. Made by Endo Pharmaceuticals, Opana is an extended release medication designed to slowly and steadily medicate a patient over a long period of time. However, when crushed, snorted, or injected, an abuser can get the full effect of the entire dose in one short burst.
Another half-hearted reaction to the opioid crisis came via a bill that recently trudged its way through the Senate. While it increased funding for monitoring programs and the availability of an anti-heroin overdose medication carried by law enforcement and emergency medical personnel, it provided no solutions for Americans already addicted to opioids. When an amendment was proposed that would have provided such funding, it was met with stifling opposition. Senators were forced to drop the amendment or risk killing the bill.
Industry lobbyists have bought considerable government influence in recent years and may be responsible for the ferocity of the legislators’ resistance. From 2007-16, the opioid lobby spent more than eight times the gun lobby’s investment to secure their positions among those with the power to slow their onslaught.
Private insurance surveys suggest that opioid prescriptions have declined by 20% since 2010. That seems rather significant, but Dr. Wilson Compton, deputy director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse in Bethesda, Maryland, says “that’s not a major reduction.” As people continue to overdose and die at record rates and the industry’s annual sales approach $10 billion, it’s easy to see his point.