Prescription opioid abuse is skyrocketing and it’s directly linked to the heroin epidemic.
A recent study by Castlight Health looked at rates of prescription painkiller abuse, and according to the study Elmira is ranked number one for prescription opioid abuse in the entire country.
“We were given a mandate that if someone is in pain we should control their pain, and we had a very good way to control pain and that was with opiates,” Dr. Brian Cassetta, an internal medicine physician at Guthrie Health said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call it an epidemic, with nearly 2 million Americans abusing or dependent on prescription painkillers. Doctors wrote nearly a quarter of a billion opioid prescriptions in 2013, enough for every American adult to have their own bottle of pills.
“Unfortunately the consequences of widespread opiate use are addiction, abuse, and now we’re dealing with overdose deaths,” Dr. Cassetta said.
Opioids, including heroin and prescription pills, killed more than 28,000 people in the U.S. in 2014. At least half of those overdose deaths involve a prescription painkiller, shattering the misconception that because they are prescribed by a doctor painkillers are completely safe.
“They’re all dangerous, they’re all opiates,” Dr. Lee Neubert, an anesthesiologist/pain medicine physician with Guthrie said. “Just because one is something that you purchase illegally off the street versus one that you get prescribed from your physician they’re all dangerous medications.”
The Castlight study claims Elmira has the highest number of prescription abusers in the country. The study defined abuse as more than a 90 day cumulative supply of opioids prescribed by four or more providers over the course of five years.
“Certainly people who meet those criteria we would consider at risk for abuse, but not everybody who is an abuser meets those criteria and not everybody who meets those criteria is an abuser,” Dr. Cassetta said.
Local doctors are working to reverse this epidemic, now mandated by the state to only write prescriptions electronically to reduce fraud. They’re also following the CDC’s new recommendations to find alternative ways to treat pain and if possible, stop prescribing opioids altogether.
“There’s a problem that’s evolved and we’re all responsible for that to varying degrees,” Dr. Neubert said.
“And I think that if we follow the guidelines we will prescribe less opioids and we will use alternative treatments for more people than we ever have before,” Dr. Cassetta said.
There are many alternatives for prescription painkillers such as interventional treatments and non-addictive medications that can help manage chronic pain. Doctors say it’s imperative that patients keep an open mind when it comes to their treatment to avoid opioid use, abuse and addiction.
The Castlight study used health insurance data to rank cities, you can view the study in full here.