CDC: Opioid Medication No Longer Driving Force Behind Drug Epidemic

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CDC: Opioid Medication No Longer Driving Force Behind Drug Epidemic

According to a representative at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, prescription opioids are no longer driving the country’s opioid epidemic.

Debra Houry, MD, CDC, last week at a congressional hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee:

“…prescription opioids were driving the increase in overdose deaths for many years …”

According to the CDC, more than 33,000 deaths were related to opioids in 2015, and less than half of those included painkillers.

Houry acknowledges that opioid medications are still gateway drugs for many users, however, and noted statistics from Ohio that revealed two-thirds of people who overdose on heroin or fentanyl obtained at least one prescription painkiller in the seven years before their death:

“The rise in fentanyl, heroin and prescription drug involved overdoses are not unrelated.”

Houry also denied reports that reductions in opioid prescribing have resulted in increased use of heroin and other illegal drugs:

“Some have suggested that policies meant to limit…opioid prescribing have led to an increase in heroin use…Recent research, however, has indicated otherwise.”

The research referred to by Houry included a January 2016 report from the New England Journal of Medicine. This research was published two months before the release of the CDC’s opioid prescription guidelines, however, and Houry offered no further evidence of her opinion that the guidelines were having no effect on heroin abuse.

Indeed, according to a recent survey conducted by the Pain News Network and International Pain Foundation, the CDC guidelines have reduced pain care access, caused harm to patients, and have spurred some to seek out illegal drugs for pain relief.

That is, more than 70% stated their prescriptions for opioid medication had been reduced or discontinued by their doctors in the past year. Furthermore, about 11% of patients said they had gotten painkillers illegally for relief since the guidelines were released.

~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology

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