Addressing the opioid crisis in the United States will require more than traditional substance abuse education and treatment. The roots of the problem are far-reaching, with far-reaching ability to affect people going about their everyday lives.

In 2015, abuse of prescription drugs cost the US $78.5 billion including healthcare costs, lost productivity, and law enforcement costs. Factor in heroin abuse and other illicit substance abuse and the picture becomes more complex and frightening.

Countering substance abuse related to prescription drug misuse will require accelerated efforts in the research of overdose reversal, pain management, and addiction treatment. None can be neglected if there is to be hope of reversing the opioid crisis. A new study by Quest Diagnostics yields valuable information about misuse of prescription drugs and how this relates to the opioid crisis and other substance abuse.

Highlights of the Quest Diagnostics Study

Quest set out to study prescription drug inconsistency by age, drug type, health insurance type, sex, and geographic location. The inconsistencies the tests looked for included:

  • Use of different (illicit or controlled) drug groups than those prescribed
  • Use of additional (illicit or controlled) drugs to those prescribed
  • Failure to use prescribed drugs
  • Rates of heroin and non-prescribed fentanyl drug use by age, sex, and state
  • Rates of opioid, alcohol, and benzodiazepine use

Fifty-two percent of tests suggest “probable misuse” of prescription drugs, based on 3.4 million monitored prescription medicine laboratory tests taken from 2011 to 2016. Additionally, 22 percent of test results show the use of illegal or off-prescription drug use, including opioids, benzodiazepines, anti-anxiety drugs, and antidepressants.

The good news is that the probability of drug misuse detected by Quest’s tests fell 11 percent from 2011 to 2016, but Quest’s data does not account for people who use prescription or street drugs acquired illicitly, and those numbers are a big part of the opioid epidemic.

Prescription Drug Abuse and America’s Opioid Crisis

The terminology “opioid epidemic” is not sensationalizing or fear-mongering. In just the one-year period from 2014 to 2015, overdose drug deaths in America increased by 11 percent, and these overdose deaths were primarily caused by heroin and synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

Treatment of chronic pain is a major challenge for physicians, and there is no denying that opioids can provide relief. One could argue that Quest, a huge medical testing corporation, would tout the benefits of testing chronic pain patients for substance abuse because it would benefit their business. However, drug testing of pain patients is recommended by the American Academy of Family Physicians too.

Substance abuse

People prescribed opioids for longer periods may be drug tested by their doctors.

As far back as 2010, The Journal of Family Practice published practice recommendations that physicians drug test chronic pain patients as soon as opioid therapy is initiated. They recommend this not only for people at high risk of substance abuse but low-risk individuals as well because of the insidious nature of opioid addiction.

The Effects of Drug Abuse in the Workforce

Substance abuse has already had staggering effects on the American workforce, with research from Princeton University reporting that addiction has driven an astounding 20 percent of American men out of the workforce, causing employers in hard-hit regions to have difficulty finding sober job applicants.

It is not just manufacturing jobs that are suffering. Every type of employer must deal with the effects of substance abuse cutting into their talent pools, with job candidates failing employer-sponsored drug tests one-quarter to half the time. Getting people with substance abuse disorders into treatment is step one in reversing the opioid epidemic.

Who Is at Greatest Risk?

To say that “everyone” is at risk of opioid addiction is at once true and may come across as almost flippant. Truthfully, opioid addiction can affect anyone, regardless of age, socioeconomic status, race, sex, or lifestyle. There are, however, certain factors that should make people (and their physicians) more vigilant regarding the possibility of opioid addiction.

  • Prior history of drug or alcohol abuse
  • A family history of addiction
  • Presence of mental illness
  • History of physical or sexual abuse
  • Poor home life quality

Substance abuse can begin innocuously, through use of prescribed medications for routine health problems. Misuse of prescription drugs is one factor contributing to the opioid crisis in the US, and if you believe you are suffering from a substance abuse disorder, it is important to get help sooner rather than later. If you have questions about opioid abuse or any other type of substance abuse, we hope you will contact us today. We look forward to hearing from you.

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