Who’s responsible for opioid crisis?


This image shows the effect and range of the opioid crisis across America.

Jane Elkins, Editorials Editor

Everyone knows about the recent opioid epidemic that has swept the nation.

Every day, 140 individuals in the United States die of a drug overdose and 91 of those overdosed are specifically due to opioids.

Drug overdoses are the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50, who are now more likely to die from a drug overdose than from car accidents or firearms.

The United States has become known for having the highest percentage of drug-related deaths in the world. All this makes it very clear that we are in the midst of a nationwide opioid crisis. What makes opioids different from other drug epidemics is the fact that the majority of them are prescribed legally by doctors. In most cases, drug dealers are the source of sales for illegal drugs, but when it comes to prescription opioids, drug dealers play a very small role in the supply chain.

So far, most of the blame has been placed on pharmaceutical companies that manufacture opioids. There is no doubt that they have contributed to it, but their share of responsibility for the epidemic is overstated. There have been thousands of lawsuits that states are filling all over the country against pharmaceutical companies. They blame them for playing down the dangers and overselling the benefits of opioids.

In one case, Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay the state of Oklahoma a whopping $572 million for the destruction wrought by prescription painkillers. Oklahoma has suffered mightily from opioids. It is said that between 2015 and 2018, 18 million opioid prescriptions were written in a state with a population of 3.9 million. Since 2000, it’s estimated that about 6,000 Oklahomans have died from opioid overdoses, with thousands more struggling with addiction.

Although this story is tragic, Johnson & Johnson should not be the only ones that are facing punishment. In fact, there are many people at fault. For one, doctors are overprescribing pain medications. In 2013 alone, doctors wrote 207 million opioid prescriptions, and that number has only gone up in recent years. There is no way that well-educated doctors are naive enough to give in to the overselling excuse.

Another group at fault is our federal government. In the 1990s, the federal government enacted the rule of pain as “the fifth vital sign” and stressed that doctors are undertreating pain. This rule made it that doctors had to use pain scale whether or not the patient’s complaint was pain or the hospital would be penalized if they did not meet these requirements.

Finally, patients need to start taking some personal responsibility. Doctors are consistently frustrated by patients who come seeking prescriptions for opioids when they are not in fact indicated.
Chronic pain is a real thing that many people suffer from. Patients who are abusing the system in order to get these medications for non-medicinal purposes make it more difficult for patients suffering real pain to get the medication they need.

This crisis has gotten out of hand. Finding who is at fault is an important thing however helping victims of this but we also need to help these patients. Politicians need to stop acknowledging the epidemic and start taking action.
We need easier access to recovery services as well as strict limits placed on doctors.

It is time for action, by all parties.