EDITORIAL: Alternatives to opioids are necessary
Doctors must thoroughly inform patients on dangers of painkillers
Rutgers' Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling has recently conducted two polls regarding the opioid issue, one of which rather strongly indicated that many people who are prescribed opioids by doctors may not have been sufficiently advised regarding their dangers or effective alternatives. In 2015, New Jersey opioid providers wrote prescriptions for more than half of every 100 patients they saw, and in 2016 New Jersey’s opioid-overdose rate exceeded the national average at 16 fatal opioid overdoses per 100,000 people. Today, the Garden State still struggles with this deadly epidemic — and New Brunswick is no exception.
New Brunswick Police Department saw an increase in Narcan deployments by officers between 2016 and 2017, with 95 doses administered. Narcan is a drug that counteracts the depressive effects of opioids like heroin, and has the ability to combat an overdose. The aforementioned polls show that people are actually likely to understand the dangers of opioids and the prominence of the issue, yet those same people often tend to overlook the prevalence of the problem in their own communities as compared to its prevalence in the state as a whole.
Being that the issue is so glaring, it is interesting to see that one of the polls found that approximately half of New Jersey’s residents were either prescribed opioids within the past 12 months, or someone else in their family was. With that in mind, in addition to the previously mentioned statistics, it is clear that opioid prescriptions are likely granted far too laxly. Prescription painkillers, which are seemingly handed out by doctors almost like candy, are a blatant gateway to addiction and often lead to the use of heroin. In fact, resorting to the use of heroin is 19 times higher in those who are reported to have used painkillers before turning to heroin than their counterparts who did not use painkillers.
As the polls show, it may be the case that, for whatever reason, doctors actually do not offer their patients many alternatives to opioids. With that said, New Jersey is taking meaningful steps in destigmatizing a quite possibly effective alternative to opioids — namely marijuana. In a way, it is puzzling that people in many states are still fighting for the legal medicinal use of marijuana, yet in those same states people are overdosing as a direct or indirect result of prescribed painkillers.
Marijuana is still seen as a gateway drug to many, and people can conceivably make an argument for why it should not be used medicinally. Additionally, people may move the blame of our opioid crisis onto the idea that it is addictive personalities that result in the problem — which could nullify reasoning for reducing the current rate of prescription. But, when one looks at the potentially negative effects of marijuana versus those related to opioids, the disparities are clear. In 2018, doctors must move away from the seemingly rampant prescription of painkillers — or as they might be more accurately described: killers.
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