The expression “it takes a village” is often bandied about; it is used to indicate how difficult it will be to accomplish a task. Today, the United States is in the grip of a very dangerous epidemic. In order to turn the tide on opioid addiction, it will take far more than a village, it will take an entire nation.
Toward that end, Vivek H. Murthy, M.D., M.B.A., the U.S. Surgeon General, recently penned an open letter to physicians. In it, he delineated the history of opiate use in America, from its genesis as a miracle medication two decades ago to its current status as the most over-prescribed and misused drug in America today.
Murthy reported the alarming truth that since 1999, opioid overdose deaths have quadrupled and opioid prescriptions have increased markedly – almost enough for every adult in America to have a bottle of pills.
The letter was a unilateral call-to-action, asking physicians nationwide to take the pledge: to commit to education surrounding how to treat pain safely and effectively; screen patients for opioid use disorder, then if need be, provide or connect them with evidence-based treatment; and talk about and treat addiction as a chronic illness, not a moral failing.
On a daily basis at Timberline Knolls, we experience the repercussions of opioid abuse and dependence on both the individual and the family. I concur with our surgeon general regarding how so many unwitting consumers first get on the road to addiction. Our residents often started their downward spiral after a seemingly innocuous prescription for pain medication was provided by a doctor. This medication, coupled with possible underlying depression or anxiety, created a situation in which our women and girls became physically dependent on the opioid. Because most went without proper medication for psychiatric issues, they became emotionally attached to them as well.
Are medical professionals solely responsible for this opioid epidemic? Absolutely not. However, by taking the Surgeon General’s pledge, every doctor in America can stop being part of the problem and begin being a key component of the solution.