Opioid Epidemic: 21st Century Thinking Needed To Solve A 21st Century Problem

In 2017, the United States government declared the epidemic of opioid abuse and overdose a national emergency. Since then, the crisis has seized the attention of media, politicians, physicians, and scientists who have bandied about numerous explanations and potential solutions to the problem.

Many states have implemented drastic opioid restrictions, manufacturers and pharmaceutical wholesale vendors have limited supply, pain clinics have shut down and doctors willing to prescribe opioids are fewer and further between. Yet, the problem persists across large swaths of the country and the number of people delivering innovative solutions is dwindling. However, the battle is not lost. The solutions we seek may be right under our noses.

To address the problem, we must first understand it. The problem is not simply access to opioid prescriptions, but rather how we as a society view and treat pain. So long as there is a demand for pain management, there will be a risk of addiction to opioids. According to a 2017 CDC study, it only takes five days of even a low dose opioid to develop a dependency on the drug. After major surgeries and severe injuries, patients can suffer from recovery pain for weeks or months, creating significant risk of long-term addiction. So how do we prevent or lower risk of addiction when the need for pain management for both acute and chronic conditions is so great? In a special report from the New England Journal of Medicine, solutions reside in three main categories: overdose reversal interventions, treatments for opioid addiction, and non-addictive pain treatments.

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