The opioid epidemic is being called the worst public health crisis in American history. When it comes to taking opioids, the United States leads the world in opiate addiction. For every one million Americans, almost 50,000 doses of opioids are taken every day.
The opioid crisis is directly related to the massive increase of prescription and non-prescription opioid drugs in the United States beginning in the late 1990s and continuing with an alarming increase into 2018. Opioids are a diverse class of painkillers, which include oxycodone (OxyContin and Percocet), hydrocodone (Vicodin), and a very strong painkiller, fentanyl, which is a synthesized version of opioids. The potency and availability of these substances have made them popular both as formal medical treatments and as recreational drugs.
Opiates are often prescribed to cancer patients for pain relief and to patients recovering from surgery. But take too many and you have a problem, which has proven to be the case in the U.S. But why? Let’s take a closer look.
Doctors Prescribe Lots of It
Often times doctors prescribe opiates as pain management solution. Some doctors also feel a great pressure of giving the patient the pain relievers because the doctor knows that if the patient doesn’t receive the pain killers from him/her, the patient will go to another doctor and get what they want…hence potentially losing a patient.
Professor Judith Feinberg from the West Virginia University School of Medicine says, “Most insurance, especially for poor people, won’t pay for anything but a pill. Say you have a patient that’s 45 years old. They have lower back pain, you examine them, they have a muscle spasm. Really the best thing is physical therapy, but no one will pay for that. So doctors get very ready to pull out the prescription pad. Even if the insurance covers physical therapy, you probably need prior authorization (from the insurer) – which is a lot of time and paperwork.”
Kick Back from Pharmaceutical Companies
Professor Keith Humphreys from Stanford University notes that in the US, it is common for drug companies to court doctors, in an effort to promote their products. “When you’re a doctor in the US, these salespeople come in from the industry. They are invariably smooth, friendly, attractive, sharply dressed, adorable, they’re giving out gifts to everybody. They host dinners, they sponsor conferences, they sponsor junkets. That is going to affect prescribing.”
In 2016, a study looked at the link between doctors, the free meals they received from drug companies, and the medication they prescribed. The study found receiving free meals was “associated with an increased rate of prescribing the promoted brand-name medication”. Pharmaceutical companies say their reps are merely sharing information with doctors. But Professor Humphreys says there is a “corrupting” influence.
Until very recently, doctors were under the misconception about just how addictive various drugs actually are. Doctors received virtually very little, if no training in pain management and what training they did get often came from the nursing staff that the doctors worked with. Fortunately, this is beginning to change in the training of doctors.
In 1980, Dr Hershel Jick wrote to the New England Journal of Medicine stating that “despite widespread use of narcotic drugs in hospitals, the development of addiction is rare in medical patients with no history of addiction”. Dr. Jick’s article had a big impact on the mindset of prescribed narcotics. Fortunately, this mindset has been proven to be erroneous.
A Culture of “Instant Cure”
We live in a “magic pill” culture. Lose weight…take a pill. Depressed…take a pill. Anxious…take a pill. Can’t sleep…take a pill. Have some pain…take a pill. Our culture has been lulled in believing that medicine can cure most of what ails us. A 51year-old finishes running a marathon and now he’s sore. He wasn’t sore when he ran the marathon at 30! So, he goes to the doctor believing his doctor will try to “fix” him and prescribe some muscle relaxants or pain killers.
Many other countries deal with pain in much healthier ways. A comparison study between the U.S. and Japan in how pain is dealt with showed that Japanese doctors treated acute pain with opioids 47% of the time…compared to 97% of the time in the U.S. There is a much greater willingness to prescribe pain killers in the U.S. than there is in most other countries.
The Christian and Opiates
A large percentage of the Church population, knowingly or unknowingly, are addicted to prescription opiates and have slid into their addiction simply because “My doctor prescribed them to me”. This is not to imply that your doctor is doing anything intentionally evil, but he may be prescribing them to you for the same or similar reasons mentioned above. After all, doctors put their pants on one leg at a time just like you!
Even though the doctor may want to prescribe opiates to you, the final say is still yours as to what you allow or don’t allow into your body. When it comes to mind altering drugs or any substance, we are called as Christians to remain sober in our mind (1 Pet. 5:8; Eph. 5:18; 1 Cor. 6:19). Otherwise, as our reasoning abilities are dulled and inhibitions are lowered, we leave ourselves open to all kinds of deception…some very subtle…others not so subtle and usually unhealthy behavior isn’t far behind. Read about what Jesus would do about addiction.
Some Practical Suggestions
We are not ignorant that there may be times in your life when you need to undergo some difficult and painful surgery and the doctor is going to want to prescribe you opiates to get you through the post-surgery pain. Below are some steps that you can take to help avoid and/or lessen the possibility of becoming addicted to any opiates that your doctor may prescribe to you in the event of a surgery.
- Talk with your doctor before the surgery and express to him/her your concerns about taking any addictive pain medication. Inquire as to whether or not there is an alternative non-addictive pain killer he can put you on. If so, request it.
- Before you take ANY medications from the nurse or doctor before or after the surgery, be sure to inquire as to what it is you are taking. If it is not in agreement with your prior meeting with your doctor refuse it and request what the doctor said he was going to give you.
- If there are no alternatives for your pain other than opiates, then request from your doctor that he prescribe only a 4-5 day prescription with no refills when they are gone. Give the prescription to a family member to administer to you who will keep them in a secret and safe place. Take the pain killers only on a sever “as needed” basis. When the pills are gone, you are done!
- For hospice patients, while there may be other reasons the patient may have for not to take opiates, addiction should not be the concern.
Opiate addiction is one the most common substances we at New Life Spirit Recovery find our clients coming in to find freedom from. If you find yourself in the midst of an opiate addiction that has caught you up in a bondage that you can’t seem to get out of by yourself, New Life Spirit Recovery is here to help you! Give us a call today! We will help you walk out of that bondage and into a the life that your God intended for you to live…one of freedom, hope and joy!
For additional information on opioids, read our series on Opiate Addiction:
Part 1: Understanding Opioid Addiction
Part 2: How to define an Opioid Addiction
Part 3: Christian Drug Treatment for Painkiller Addiction