Nov 05 2017

The Opioid Addiction Epidemic in Our Country

Published by at 2:26 pm under Personal Care

CVS Pharmacy takes steps to address  the opioid addiction epidemic in our country.
While opioid addiction continues and overdoses kill our citizens, some companies are taking matters into their own hands.

Did you know?

  • Drug overdoses are the number one cause of death in Americans under the age of 50*
  • Overdoses killed more people last year than car accidents or guns*
  • In 2015, 1 out of 5 deaths in the US were drug related*
  • Over 2 million Americans have problems with Opioids*
  • In 2015, 97 million people used prescription pain killers. Of those, 12 million did so without a doctor’s direction*
  • Between 2006 and 2014, the most widely prescribed opioid was hydrocodone (Vicodin)*
  • In 2014, 7.8 billion hydrocodone pills were distributed nationwide*(1,2,3,4)*

According to a recent survey from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, one in 3 Americans, or 91.8 million Americans use opioids. In 2015 alone, there were over 15,000 opioid related deaths according to the CDC. It is universally agreed that something needs to be done about our country’s opioid epidemic, but with big money to be made by drug manufacturers and distributors, finding the answer has been trickier then imagined. One company is doing their part to help with this drug epidemic in our country and that is CVS pharmacy.1*

CVS, which was the first large retail pharmacy to stop selling cigarettes in 2014, is now the first pharmacy to limit opioid prescriptions to a 7-day supply, and restricting how many pain pills patients are allowed, depending on their condition. CVS said its program will include “limiting to seven days the supply of opioids dispensed for certain acute prescriptions for patients who are new to therapy; limiting the daily dosage of opioids dispensed based on the strength of the opioid; and requiring the use of immediate-release formulations of opioids before extended-release opioids are dispensed.”Additionally, the pharmacists will counsel patients on addiction, how to store medications to keep them out of the hands of others and proper disposal. These changes will take place in February 2018.(1,2)*

“…Opioids are drugs formulated to replicate the pain reducing properties of opium. They include both legal painkillers like morphine, oxycodone, or hydrocodone prescribed by doctors for acute or chronic pain, as well as illegal drugs like heroin or illicitly made fentanyl. The word “opioid” is derived from the word opium…3*

Opium is a narcotic obtained from a kind of poppy which has been used by humans for thousands of years. From opium comes a host of other drugs with similar properties such as morphine and  heroin, which was legal in the U.S. and actually used as a cough suppressant, until it was banned in the 1920s.  Next there came such prescription pain medications as Oxycontin, Percocet and Vicodin. Opium as well as these derivatives are collectively known as opiates.4*

There are also compounds which act similarly to opiates but are synthetic . Hydrocodone and oxycodone are semi-synthetic opioids, manufactured in labs with natural and synthetic ingredients. Others are methadone and fentanyl. Fentanyl was developed as a powerful anesthetic for surgery and is also given to alleviate severe pain associated with terminal illnesses such as cancer. One hundred times more powerful than morphine, it is deadly in small doses. This drug has been a leading factor in the high number of overdose deaths in the past few years. (3,4)*,

Opioids are a “vital component of modern medicine.”. They have improved life quality for many patients including those with cancer and acute pain. But the problem is these highly addictive opioid receptors not only regulate pain, but also activate the reward system in the human body making them debilitating addictive. Sadly, these drugs have been over prescribed, According to the CDC, the number of pain pills such as oxycontin and vicodin prescribed went from 13 days in 2006 to 18 days in 2015. For wisdom teeth, child birth and surgery, 18 days is excessive. Even 13 days is too much, especially when pain can be managed by other, non-addicting means. 1*

Let’s look at some history to understand why our country is experiencing this explosive epidemic, one that the president is calling a national emergency.

It began in the 1980s when some very influential journal articles came out which eased fears among the medical community about prescribing opioids for chronic pain, saying they were not as addictive as previously thought.(3,4)*

The pharmaceutical industry took notice and in the mid 1990s aggressively (and fraudulently) started marketing  such drugs to include oxycontin.

“…Purdue Pharma took out ads for OxyContin in medical journals across the nation in 2000. Seven years later, the company and three of its executives would be charged with misbranding its drug and downplaying the possibility of addiction. Three executives pleaded guilty, and the company settled with the U.S. government for $635 million…”3*

Manufacturers of these drugs were selling (in addition to legitimate pharmacies and distributors), massive amounts to distributors who were then selling to illicit “pain management” centers or Pill Mills which then flooded communities with prescription opiods.4*.

People slowly became addicted after a decade of use, whether they had been prescribed these pills or they had been taking them recreationally. At this same time, heroin prices dropped and suppliers spread out to smaller communities and rural areas where people were willing and ready to take the next step to a better high.4*

In 2014, fentanyl entered the drug supply in large amounts. This synthetic derivative is manufactured in China mostly and also Mexico. It is very strong in small doses, and often people don’t know how much they are getting, leading to overdose. While overdose from prescription opioids has leveled off since 2011, heroin and fentanyl deaths continue to rise, but this crisis “has its roots in the over prescribing of opioids.”4*

In the states where the drug crisis is particularly severe such as Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, fentanyl is involved in more than 50% of the overdose fatalities.4*

According to medical and drug addiction experts, finding a solution to the opioid epidemic requires controlling prescription opioid distribution yet at the same time, maintaining access for patients with legitimate medical needs. The fear is that a sudden removal of opioids access for those who need it to function, would lead those people to illicit sources such as heroin or counterfeit pills.4*

 “While heroin and fentanyl are the primary killers now, experts agree that the epidemic will not stop without halting the flow of prescription opioids that got people hooked in the first place.”4*

This is where CVS is taking this step to make sure patients, their pharmacists and their doctors are sticking to recommended dosages established by the CDC and other prevention organizations. Perhaps other companies will follow and put the people of this country first ahead of big business, money and greed. If you or anyone you know has become addicted to opioids, contact a treatment facility near you. Don’t play around. Take action. Your life is meant to be lived in a healthy, happy and balanced manner.2*

Stay healthy and stay aware,





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