The opioid crisis in the United States has reached epidemic proportions. Currently, there are around 128 deaths each day. How did things escalate so quickly and significantly? There are a number of factors that are involved. There are also a few major players involved, which include physicians, Big Pharma, and politics, that bear the brunt of the blame. However, historical driving forces should be looked at as well. These will shine a light on why the opioid crisis has ballooned into the monster it is today.
We need to go back to the 1980s. Back then, “experts” on palliative care were claiming that chronic opioid therapy was unlikely to lead to addiction. The story they were selling was that the pharmaceutical drugs being prescribed to patients were safer and would be less likely to lead to addiction.
Moving into the 90s, in 1996 the American Pain Society declared “pain” to be the “5th vital sign” that was just as important to consider as a patient’s pulse. Even though it’s impossible to objectively measure the severity of pain, this nonetheless became accepted as a fact.
Heading into the 21st century, in 2001 the Joint Commission, which certifies healthcare organizations within the US, claimed that doctors weren’t treating pain enough. In fact, they went even further and stated that if a doctor or nurse didn’t give a drug to treat a patient’s pain, they would be sanctioned. This put doctors and nurses in a position where they would have to weigh whether they would be violating their Hippocratic Oath or not. The Joint Commission wasn’t done. It also claimed that some clinicians are too concerned about addiction.
Soon after that, OxyContin got a makeover and was pushed to doctors so that it could be distributed to millions of patients. It has now earned the award for being the most profitable pain medication ever produced. It also is responsible for an alarming amount of physical addictions to the drug.
Dr. Russell Surasky, a neurology specialist who is also board-certified in addiction medicine, believes the Joint Commission couldn’t have been more wrong in their assessment. He also notes that the makers of OxyContin realized they could make a fortune selling their drug to not just cancer patients, but also to people who have everyday aches and pains. Dr. Surasky sees this as being little more than a giant fraud campaign due to the extreme downplaying of the drug’s risks.
Even though all of the events leading up to today’s opioid crisis are tragic, there are ways to successfully address it. Today, there are new forms of treatment that, alongside counseling, have the ability to reverse changes in the brain caused by addiction, leading to more lives being saved.
Dr. Surasky has developed a multi-pronged approach that includes a combination of detox, Vivitrol treatment, and stress reduction focused on the upper spine and limbic system. He has already seen remarkable results thanks to using these tools and techniques.