Somewhere close to half of the people who undergo treatment for opioid addiction in the United States continue to use prescription painkillers—both during and after treatment is complete, according to a new study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
It is not uncommon these days for doctors to prescribe a low-dose opioid called buprenorphine (similar to methadone) to those suffering from a savage junk addiction. The drug is typically used as a method for reducing the severity of withdrawal symptoms, to get those on the mend through treatment, especially the first 72 hours.
However, in this particular study, which can be read in its entirety in the current issue of the journal Addiction, researchers found a significant amount of those people (43 percent) who exit treatment centers for opioid addiction immediately move on to pick up a prescription for the very painkilling substances that unapologetically tossed them into a rock bottom pit of despair.
In fact, the study found that the majority (67 percent) of those treated for opioid addiction eventually return to dope.
Researchers say, similar to the situation with those struggling with alcoholism, lawmakers need to understand that treatment, in most cases, is not indicative of a cure.
“Policymakers may believe that people treated for opioid addiction are cured, but people with substance use disorders have a lifelong vulnerability,” Dr. G. Caleb Alexander, lead study author and associate professor of epidemiology at Hopkins, said in a statement. “Our findings highlight the importance of stable, ongoing care for these patients.”
Although some recovering addicts are simply taking opioid medications again by mistake—consuming pills for injuries without knowing to inform their doctor of their substance abuse disorder—others are undoubtedly on a mission to swim in the feel good oasis again.
Even with Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs in place to help prevent these types of situations from happening, the system only works when health care staff takes the time to use it. The inconvenience of utilizing this system as a normal part of patient care is the primary reason it is not often accessed in the manner for which it was designed.
Alexander believes that this is something that needs to change.
“We need to get to a point where checking a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program is just as routine as checking a patient’s kidney function before starting a high blood pressure medication,” he said.
The latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the rate of overdose deaths in the United States has grown 2.5 times more than it was in 1999.
Sadly, researchers say the problem is likely far worse than what is shown in their latest data. That’s because their analysis only included prescription painkillers, not street drugs, like heroin.