Almost Half of All Opioid Misuse Starts With a Friend or Family Member’s Prescription

A national survey of 50,000 adults found that more than half who misused opioids didn’t even have a prescription for them — rather, they obtained the drugs from friends or relatives. NPR didn’t say whether those friends and relatives willingly shared the drugs, or if they were “borrowed” without the legal owners’ knowledge, but they did say that many narcotics are overprescribed. They added that nearly two-thirds of those who used opioids inappropriately did it to relieve physical pain, even though opioids aren’t meant for chronic pain.

There’s no question that opioids are both overprescribed and overfilled — meaning doctors write out prescriptions for more than the amount that most people need to relieve severe pain from cancer or a recent surgery. This new article simply confirms that one reason morgues are filling up from opioid-related deaths is that there is too much of this drug freely available.

From the point of senior citizens alone, about 12 million Medicare beneficiaries, or about 1 in 3, received at least one opioid painkiller prescription in 2015. Among those taking the drugs, most received more than one prescription or refill; the average was actually five opioid prescriptions or refills per opioid user — and that’s a lot of narcotics. No wonder we have an epidemic, not just with opioids, but with heroin as well, as a joint report by the CDC and FDA revealed that the vast majority — 75 percent — of heroin users started out on prescription painkillers.

If you’re in severe pain, there are times when these drugs have a place, and they can be of great benefit when used cautiously and correctly. It's quite clear, however, that prescription opioid painkillers are being overprescribed and can easily lead you into addiction and other, more illicit, drug use. You can help end this cycle by questioning whether you need opioids to fight the pain. And, if you’re dealing with severe or chronic pain, my first suggestion would be to see a pain specialist who is familiar with alternative treatments and the underlying causes of pain.
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