Department & Division News

Opioid Abuse

(This article first appeared in the May-June 2018 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine) 

By Health Plan Director John Marcotte 

Unfortunately, as we all know, misuse of opioids is an epidemic in America. Prescription drugs such as morphine, fentanyl, oxycodone and hydrocodone are all opioids like illegal drugs, such as heroin.

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), “use of illegal opioids such as heroin and the non-medical use of certain prescription opioid pain medications such as oxycodone have risen to epidemic levels with rates that are continuing to soar. Deaths from opioid overdose have tripled since 1990. Further, in 2010, Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) estimated that approximately 2.3 million emergency department visits resulted from drug misuse or abuse; 51 percent of those involved nonmedical use of pharmaceuticals.”

Other facts provided by ASAM:

  • In 2015, over two million Americans were abusing prescription pain killers and 591,000 were abusing heroin.
  • Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. Opioids are leading the way, with 20,101 deaths due to prescription pain relievers and 12,909 due to heroin, reported in 2015.
  • A study found that as sales of prescription pain relievers increase, overdose and substance use disorder treatments for prescription pain relievers increase at the same rate or greater.
  • Four-in-five heroin users started out misusing pre- scription drugs.
  • In 2012, 259 million prescriptions were written for opioids. That is enough for every American over 18 to have a bottle of pills.

The American Academy of Pain Medicine recommends the following safety principles for individuals prescribed an opioid:

  • “Never take an opioid pain medication that is not prescribed to you.
  • “Never adjust your own dose.
  • “Never mix medication with alcohol.
  • “Always tell your health care provider about all medications you are taking.
  • “Keep track of when you take your medication.
  • “Keep medications locked in a safe place.
  • “Dispose of any unused medications.