A Better Way to Approach Pain, and America's Pain-Pill Epidemic

August 28, 2014 6:16 PM

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A Better Way to Approach Pain, and America's Pain-Pill Epidemic

You may have noticed headlines about the rise of prescription drugs as a major cause of addiction and death by overdose. Pain pills are overshadowed by illegal drugs like heroin and their dangers masked by a certain air of respectability. Yet America is in the midst of an epidemic of painkiller overuse as well as addiction. As a nation we constitute only about 5 percent of the world's population, but we consume some 80 percent of the prescription drugs called opioids, the strongest and most addictive pain pills, that go by names like Vicodin, OxyContin, Dilaudid, codeine, and Percocet. We consume 99 percent of the global supply of a particular opioid called hydrocodone, which is used in combination with other drugs for pain relief but also cough suppression. In 2014 the FDA approved a new version of a pure hydrocodone despite the objections of its own medical advisory panel (which voted 12-2 against approval) and 30 states. Today opioid overdose deaths (one every 30 minutes) exceed deaths from motor vehicle accidents as well as the combined total of deaths by heroin or cocaine overdose.

How did we get here? The pain-relieving properties of opium have been known for thousands of years, but because of its dangerous side effects and addictive properties, it has generally been reserved for more severe forms of acute pain. This changed in the mid-'90s when doctors became more lax abou...

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