The opioid crisis is one of the most serious issues thrust upon the world at the break of the 21st century, having unimaginable consequences and a strong impact on the healthcare industry. The pain reducing properties of opioids and their addictive effects on man have been well documented from as far back as the civil war. But it’s not until a few decades ago that this addiction has really taken over as an epidemic, an opioid epidemic.
It began in the late 1990’s as a humanitarian effort to ease the chronic pain of patients by introducing opioid pain relievers, backed by the faux assurances of pharmaceutical companies that patients will not become addicted. The result is a widespread misuse of both prescription and non-prescription drugs to such an extent, even forcing the HHS to declare a public health emergency in 2017.
Imagine this- in 2016 alone, the American CDC reported 42,249 opioid overdose deaths. The math works out to a shocking 115 overdose deaths per day, a death every 12 minutes.
To make matters worse, a forecast by STAT estimates a minimum of 650,000 deaths over the next ten years as a result of this opioid epidemic.
A full-fledged epidemic- there was a five-fold increase in the occurrence of a drug withdrawal symptom in newborn babies, termed Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), within a span of 12 years (2000 to 2012) due to opioid abuse during pregnancy.
Canada reported 2458 opioid-related deaths in 2016 with more than 40% increase in the last few years alone, making them a distant second in the opioid epidemic hit list.
The fact that 15-24 is the age group with the fastest growing rate of hospitalization due to opioid poisoning in Canada is a cause for serious concern.
“When you look at the numbers and think of the resources required to treat all those people, I would say the impact is quite significant — and it’s growing,” says David O’Toole, president and CEO of CIHI.
One word to describe the effect of this opioid crisis on the medical community, Dramatic!
The Emergency Response Services have always been up to their neck with everyday incidents. They are further taxed by the ever increasing 911 calls on overdose emergencies. As a result, their interest is diverted towards stabilizing overdose persons and admitting them to hospitals. Critical services like responding to heart attacks, strokes, and other accidents are usually deprived of precious minutes.
Hospitals also bear the burden of sparing resources to treat these patients and are usually quite drained. Eventually, they are forced to invest more on infra to accommodate larger volumes of patients instead of focusing on medicine.
“In 2016-17, 16 Canadians a day were admitted to hospital for opioid toxicity. That one-year hospitalization rate translates into more than 5,800 Canadians needing treatment which is extremely high”, said Brent Diverty, vice-president of programs at CIH.
The cost to the U.S. healthcare system for healthcare services rendered to opioid overdose patients rose at a staggering rate. Between 2007-2014 alone, the insurance claims by insured Americans rose by 3203% according to a Fair Health white paper.
Is the health system preparing for this tsunami of services?” asks Robin Gelburd, president of Fair Health,
“The primary diagnosis of opioid dependency kicks off a number of medical services, including office visits, lab tests, and other related treatments,” wrote KHN’s Julie Appleby, adding, “The report found that the number of such services rendered to patients with a dependency diagnosis went from about 217,000 in 2007 to about 7 million in 2014.”
Big pharmaceutical companies have been at the center of some serious scandals over the years. But experts say it’s nothing compared to the aftermath of President Trump’s declaration of opioid crisis to be a national emergency. To give you an idea of what to expect, an announcement in March of a Senate probe into some major opioid makers brought the share prices down by a good margin.
Expert opinion on the real impact of this development is a transformation of the people’s response from sorrow to outrage. The declaration of emergency will give the Justice Department carte blanche to pursue lawsuits against the drug companies and increase the chances of huge settlements.
The result would be a drastic reduction in the amount of funds allocated to drug research and development. A step backward considering the drug industries already spend more on sales and advertising.
Add to this the proposed reduction in funding for all federal drug prevention programs by about 11%, including a cut of $1.3 billion to the CDC and $5.7 billion to the National Institutes of Health.
There has been some euphoria about the prospects of millions of dollars in lawsuits putting a leash on the devious sales tactics of Big Pharma. But the healthcare industry still needs the drug companies to sell life-saving products to millions of people every day.
“Putting them out of business or severely regulating them could lead to shortages and a significant slowdown in the discovery of newer and better treatments.”
While the opioid epidemic is still on the growing trend, hope seems to come in the form of the FDA stepping up its game and the promising Medication Assisted Treatment.
“MAT programs provide a safe and controlled level of medication to overcome the use of an abused opioid” brags the HHS’ website.
Programs like these, combined with a strong federal and ONDCP role, can gradually result in reducing opioid misuse and overdose deaths is the expert opinion.
What are your thoughts on the opioid crisis? Do you think proper measures are taken to bring it under control? Share your opinions on TacitKey.