There is no question that the opioid epidemic is one of the greatest public health crises of our lifetimes. The record is deep with stories of tragic overdoses and towns that have been decimated by opioid abuse. In fact, the epidemic has even been blamed for lowering life-expectancy in the United States. This Chicago Tribune ran a commentary discussing the 5 myths about opioids. The author, Adriane Fugh-Berman, M.D., starts out with a little history about opioids that I think has been lost over time:
When I was in medical training in the 1980s, physicians were taught that opioids were useful but dangerous drugs that should be used only for severe injuries, after surgery or in terminally ill patients. Since the 1990s, however, pharmaceutical companies have systematically distorted perceptions about opioids, through paid speakers, sponsored “education” and bought-off organizations.
Dr. Fugh-Berman takes on a number of myths that many of us have just taken for granted. Here are the five myths that Dr. Fugh-Berman tackles and some of the interesting truths:
- Opioids are the most effective drugs for chronic pain: “opioids actually increase pain sensitivity over time”;
- Pharma hasn’t caused the addiction epidemic; doctors are at fault for prescribing opioids inappropriately: “physicians were persuaded to prescribe opioids inappropriately by pharmaceutical companies”;
- Addiction to prescribed opioids occurs only in patients who are already addicts: “Even people with no personal or family history of addiction can and have become addicted through a doctor’s prescription”;
- Abuse-deterrent formulations are part of the solution: “’abuse-deterrent’ simply means the pill is difficult to dissolve into an injectable form. This is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist; most addicts swallow rather than inject opioids”; and,
- Public-private partnerships will help solve the opioid problem: “Partnering with the industry that created the opioid epidemic and now wants to profit from solutions does not make sense.”
This is a very smart piece written by a physician and professor of pharmacology and physiology at Georgetown University Medical Center. The opioid epidemic is part of our national identity right now. It would serve us all well to have a greater understanding of what we are talking about and reading this piece is a great starting point.