The New York Times put out two articles Monday on opiate addiction in the U.S. The first reported on a new study in The Journal of the American Medical Association that estimates a baby is born every hour addicted to opiates. Researchers examined differences between substantial data collected in 2000 and 2009. In 2009, five times as many mothers were found to be using opiate drugs while the number of addicted infants rose threefold. The financial strain also increased with the cost of treating an addicted infant rising an astonishing 35% from 2000 to roughly $53,000. One reason given for the alarming rise in use is the preponderance of prescription medication. This is no longer just an issue for heroin addicts or other needle junkies.
Enter the second New York Times piece which highlights a dilemma faced by physicians in the E.R.: to prescribe or not to prescribe? The National Institutes of Health funded a survey that found from 1997-2007 75% of visits to the ER for dental pain concluded with prescriptions for painkillers. Anecdotally, doctors see patients going from ER to ER to acquire multiple prescriptions. Because of client satisfaction surveys, lack of emergency dental training and high client turnover, many doctors find offering medications the easier, softer way. Citing several factors including client satisfaction surveys, veteran ER physician Dr. Tom Benzoni feels it is a catch-22, “If you’re going to criticize me for not giving out narcotics, and you never praise me for correctly identifying a drug-seeker, then I’m going to give out narcotics.”
Further education and training for doctors is certainly one way to start carving out a solution. But what about Big Pharma? Maybe we should be looking at how addictive these medications really are.