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Worldwide epidemic of prescription opioid dependence and addiction

The consequences of opioid pain reliever addiction are devastating, as well as increasing in severity as the global market for medicine and drugs continues to grow. According to the World Health Organization, there is an increasing worldwide problem with over prescribing, dispensing and selling of medications. It is estimated that between 26.4 million and 36 million people abuse opioids worldwide (UNODC 2012). The World Health Organization estimates roughly 69,000 people die from overdosing on prescribed opioids each year (WHO 2014).

Prescribed pain relievers are made from opium, which comes from the poppy plant. Morphine and codeine are the two naturally derived products made from opium. These medicines can be synthesized or modified to produce other types or imitations of morphine, as well as other opioids.

United States’ stats

One of the most common reasons people give for going to the doctor is to relieve pain. In the United States alone, 44 people die everyday due to prescription painkillers (CRC 2014). Most people don’t realize the level of severity of the prescription opioid epidemic. Prescription drugs are being used at a much higher rate in the U.S., as compared to any other illicit drug (NIDA 2014). In fact, in the past 25 years the number of deaths due to overdoses on heroin and other opioids in the United States has nearly doubled (NIDA 2014).

Where opioid abuse is prevalent

Occurrences of people seeking treatment for addiction to painkillers are also increasing at an enormous rate. In 2010, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that the number of people seeking treatment for addiction to painkillers jumped 400 percent from 1998 to 2008 (NIDA 2014).

The market for pharmaceutical medicines, including prescribed opioids is dominated by the U.S. and Japan, two of the largest global importers and exporters of pharmaceutical medicines. The U.S. and Japan were not only the world’s two biggest producers of medicines, which include prescription pills, they were also the biggest net importers of medicines in 1999 (WHO 2014).

Industrialized countries are both the biggest individual exporters and importers of all medicines. The ten biggest exporting countries accounted for 80 percent of world exports and the ten biggest importers accounted for over 60 percent of all imports in 1999 (WHO 2014).

Dealing with opioid abuse

As a result of a global phenomenon of unethical prescribing, selling and usage of medicines in general, the World Health Organization has developed a 12-key intervention model to promote a global set of ethics and standards in this regard:

  1. Establishment of a multidisciplinary national body to coordinate policies on medicine use
  2. Use of clinical guidelines
  3. Development and use of national essential medicines list
  4. Establishment of drug and therapeutics committees in districts and hospitals
  5. Inclusion of problem-based pharmacotherapy training in undergraduate curricula
  6. Continuing in-service medical education as a licensure requirement
  7. Supervision, audit and feedback
  8. Use of independent information on medicines
  9. Public education about medicines
  10. Avoidance of perverse financial incentives
  11. Use of appropriate and enforced regulation
  12. Sufficient government expenditure to ensure availability of medicines and staff

It’s absolutely normal to seek pain relief from intensive surgery or broken bones. However, the staggering levels of overdoses due to people becoming addicted to prescribed opioids is astonishingly frightful. When people are able to identify and recognize that they have a problem with prescription pills, such as opioids, they have taken the first step towards getting the help they need and truly deserve.

Research has shown that methadone and buprenorphine administered alongside a treatment program of individual, group and 12-step therapy, can be extremely beneficial to certain individuals (NIDA 2014). Experts agree that people addicted to opioids should not attempt to quit cold-turkey on their own. Getting help at an inpatient treatment center or obtaining treatment at a methadone clinic may be beneficial to certain individuals.

If you or a loved one would like more information on getting proper treatment for an addiction to prescribed opioids, you can call the Recovery Helpline at 855-441-4405.

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