Our country is in the midst of an “opioid epidemic.” This headline, along with similar sensationalism, appears in a slew of publications from “Time Magazine” to the “New York Times.” People are dying from opioid overdoses (medication used to treat pain) at an exorbitant rate. 1 in 5 young adults (ages 25-34) according to “Time Health.” There are plenty of other hard statistics (opioid-related deaths doubled from 2009-2016, opioids were related to 1.5% of all deaths in 2016), but causes, strategies, and solutions to the problem remain up in the air.
Policy makers want to crack down on the production of opioid medication, targeting the manufacturers. Several multidistrict litigation cases are in progress to hold the manufacturers accountable for negligence regarding the high volume production of pain pills.
Government agencies are putting pressure on doctors such as limiting the amount and strength of the drugs they can prescribe, encouraging the prescription of non-opioid pain killers for acute or chronic pain, and jumping through extra hoops to weed out drug-seekers. This infuriates chronic pain patients because the policies add extra steps to people who already struggle to make it through a normal day, and that is if they are fortunate enough to not get their medication reduced or even cut off completely.
Some would say these policies have been successful. Between 2010 and 2015, Broward County, Florida saw a 62% drop in narcotic prescriptions. Then why are opioid-related deaths increasing?
The old adage of cutting off a hydra head resulting in 2 heads growing back parallels the current opioid crisis. While there may be less prescription pills on the street now than several years ago, a more sinister substance has taken their place. Black market heroin has always been the go-to for addicts who could not get their prescription pill fix. It’s a more dangerous drug because addicts don’t know the strength of the dose and tend to use more dangerous methods like snorting and injecting. But the newest beast, fentanyl (an opioid 100 times more powerful than morphine), has emerged on the scene and is ravaging communities at an unprecedented rate. In addition to being sold on its own, it has made its way into heroin batches, resulting in wildly unknown and disproportionate doses. People can overdose from the same bag that got them high earlier that day.
While government agencies play the blame game with doctors, pharmacies, manufacturers, and distributors on misuse and diversion of prescription medication, the real crisis has moved beyond the pharmacy and into the streets. In 2016, 2000 more deaths were attributed to illicit opioids than pharmaceutical drugs, a 32% increase from 2010.
The policies are working. There are less prescription pills on the street. But where there is demand, supply will find a way. Despite the victory for cutting down black market prescription drugs, they still pose a threat. If you or your family has had an issue with doctors and pharmacies negligently handing out narcotics, Reich and Binstock will make sure you receive compensation for any anguish you have suffered. And if you or anyone you know is into illicit opioids, get help as soon as possible. The next dose could be the last.