Heroin overdose by shutterstock stock photo c

New Pharmaceutical Drug Guidelines As Drug Laws Pass The Senate: Opioid Prescription Painkillers Seen As Gateway To Heroin

Pharmaceutical drug guidelines for opioid prescription painkillers have been issued by the CDC in advance of government regulations passed March 17. Senator Harry Reid reports from his government website that the “Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016” has finally passed. This legislation may give CDC guidelines more weight.

Opioid pharmaceutical drug guidelines come in response to studies showing prescription painkillers drugs, such as Vicodin and Oxycodone, can lead to addiction to street drugs like heroin. When prescriptions expire or tolerance to drugs like OxyContin and Oxymorphone increases, patients are no longer satiated and are forced to seek heroin on the streets. In addition, many people do not finish their prescribed medications or dispose of them properly, leading to theft or abuse by those for whom the medications were not prescribed.

What are Opioid Perscription Pain Killers?

Opioid pharmaceutical drugs are essentially synthetic opium. They intoxicate and induce euphoria, and they are highly addictive. Using large doses of these types of medications can make it difficult to function and think clearly. The CDC lists common types of opioid medications Hydrocodone (brand name Vicodin), Oxycodone (brand name OxyContin), and Oxymorphone (brand name Opana, Methadone, and Fentanyl).

A mountain of pill bottles
A mountain of pill bottles; Medical professionals prescribe 259 million prescriptions for opioids each year. [Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images For alice + olivia by Stacey Bendet]

The Problem

Opioid pharmaceutical drug addiction and heroin abuse are epidemic in America, killing 30,000 people each year, according to Mercola. Meanwhile, three times as many prescriptions for opioid painkillers were written in 2011 than in 1991. CBS New York Local reports that while in the 1960s most heroin abusers started using the drug without prior prescription drug abuse, the opposite is true in the 21st century. Now, 75 percent of heroin addicts started using synthetic opiates and progressed to heroin.

Pharmaceutical drug abuse soared as doctors prescribed 259 million bottles of opioid prescription painkillers in 2012. That is enough pills for every American over 18 to have a bottle. A recent CDC report illustrates the connection between opioid prescription drugs and heroin abuse.

“[P]ast misuse of prescription opioids is the strongest risk factor for heroin initiation and use.”

Pharmaceutical drug misuse, known to be a gateway to heroin addiction, has led the CDC and the U.S. government to seek alternatives. Less addictive drugs must be prescribed in the future despite serious resistance from prescription drug manufacturers.

 Homeless Heroin addict boots up in public David McNew.jpg
Homeless heroin addict boosts up public. [Photo by David McNew/Newsmakers/Getty Images]

The Controversy

Pharmaceutical drug companies have huge lobbies. Mercola alleges many “Inter-agency Pain Research Coordinating Committee” members have a substantial conflict of interest in the fight against opioid prescription painkillers. These types of panel members, on various government and non-profit boards and panels, are entrenched in various nonprofits that rely on donations from pharmaceutical drug companies. Sometimes they are unduly influenced to recommend policies that promote prescription drug abuse. The American Geriatrics Society, for example, changed its guidelines for opioid prescriptions in 2009.

“That over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen and naproxen, be used rarely and that doctors instead consider prescribing opioids for all patients with moderate to severe pain.”

New Guidelines For Prescription Opioids

New CDC pharmaceutical drug guidelines have been written in response to studies showing prescription opioid painkillers as a gateway to heroin. These are not laws but rather statements of good practice for health care professionals. Regulatory laws will likely follow, though. USA Today reports some of the CDC recommendations for prescribing opioids. These guidelines do not apply to the palliative care of terminal patients. The guidelines are in a very long document, but below are some important highlights taken from the CDC volumes.

  • Pharmaceutical drug guidelines state that opioid prescription painkillers should be used for only three to seven days after surgery or injury.
  • Less powerful medications, including high dosage ibuprofen and other anti-inflammatory drugs should be tried for management of chronic pain before considering synthetic opiates.
  • Patients using opioids for more than seven days should be evaluated within the first four weeks to consider reducing the dose and finding better means of managing discomfort. Patients who continue to use synthetic opiates should be evaluated frequently for signs of increasing tolerance.
  • Opioid prescription painkillers should be used sparingly and in conjunction with non-pharmaceutical pain management.

Pharmaceutical drug guidelines for opioid prescription painkillers could help slow the epidemic of heroin abuse.

[Image by ShutterStock]