The dosage was high, but the drug's effect on the patient's chronic pain was leveling off.
The danger of an overdose loomed. The patient, working with his doctors, decided to enter a detox center and transition off the opioid painkillers in a medically monitored environment.
After providing initial relief, the drug had become more of a risk than a benefit. The patient received both buprenorphine—used to treat opioid addiction—and psychosocial treatment. As with most chronic-pain patients, his symptoms improved once he got off the medication. And he has beaten addiction.
This is a real story and a far too common situation. The path to addiction often starts in a doctor's office. That's why doctors have to be front and center in the fight against opioid abuse.
Since 1999, there has been nearly a fourfold increase in the sales of prescription opioids. But pain has not quadrupled in America. While most of these prescriptions undoubtedly were written in good faith, there's no doubt some of these drugs are being abused. Combined with illegal drugs, they are fueling a 15-year increase in opioid overdose deaths nationwide. Across America, opioid-related deaths have increased by 200% since 2000. Northeastern states have been particularly hard-hit by the epidemic. Last year alone, 657 lives were lost in Connecticut—a grim all-time record.
Physicians must be more thoughtful and accountable in prescribing opioids. This is one of the goals of a bill just signed into law by Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy that establishes a seven-day supply limit for most initial acute- pain-related opioid prescriptions. It ensures that first responders have and know how to use drugs (such as Naloxone) that can halt a drug overdose and it prevents health plans covering such drugs from requiring prior approval. We applaud Connecticut officials for quickly turning sound policy into law.