Ways We Can Better Combat the Opioid Epidemic

By: Ben Buchanan | benbuchanan@newzgroup.com

Being a Newz Group media research analyst for the past six years, studying aggregated news content of the Appalachian region of the United States, I have come across innumerable articles detailing the opioid epidemic in exceptional detail.  Each day, more people are struck by the addiction that plagues the United States. This particular issue does seem alarmingly arduous in the Appalachian region.  Why that is, I cannot say with certainty.  Perhaps it relates to the economic downturns the area has faced, with the declining coal market and manufacturing jobs increasingly going overseas.  Perhaps it relates to high numbers of injuries, whether work related or not, that create the need for pain medication to be prescribed.  Frankly, I am not sure of the initial starting point – other than the pain relief push of the 90s, when opioid medications were pushed toward pain management for those facing such travails as terminal cancer – but the beginning may be less important than what people can do now that the problem has arisen.

It should be noted that there is no clear path out of this quagmire.  Advocates for the elimination of opioid pain medication in its entirety may have not had to face severe surgery or debilitating diseases that wrack the body with excruciating pain, which often necessitates the need for opioid treatment.  There are many other ailments that may not require such extreme remedies as having prescription opioids.  In many instances, there are other options for pain management:  anti-inflammatory drugs, meditation, and physical therapy.  These methods may not be suitable for all patients, such as knee surgery that sets a person wheelchair bound for eight weeks, but they been proven to be effective conservative treatments for pain.

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Another key element of reducing the opioid issue facing the nation is instituting prescription monitoring programs.  These programs allow physicians to monitor patients and any prescriptions said patient is receiving.  These programs enable doctors to ensure they are not over-medicating patients, and allow them uncover any possible “doctor-shopping“. So far, many states have created their own programs, though a national registry would allow for the most comprehensive coverage of patients.  Unfortunately, an issue facing prescription monitoring programs is that, without a national program, “doctor-shopping” may still be possible across state lines, as there is very little crossover between state registries.

The last factor I will touch on, though there are many other avenues that may be explored to help fight the opioid epidemic, is that of drug rehabilitation centers.  These allow people facing addiction to seek and receive the treatment they need. This starts with sobriety support and clearing out minds and bodies of addiction, to support groups and creating a comprehensive plan that can allow a person to get their life back on track.  These are an invaluable resource, though they can be prohibitively expensive.  Fortunately, there are some rehabilitation facilities that are tier-priced, depending on a client’s financial means, allowing those in need to find the sequestered solace from opioid addiction, or any other type of addiction, for that matter.

On a more positive note, while the nation and, specifically, Appalachia face the opioid epidemic, there are many steps that may be taken to reduce or even eliminate the problem all together.  It will require time and persistence, as well as some trust in our elected officials to implement solutions, but the answers are out there.