By Briana Vannozzi
“At one time I was taking Roxicet 30s which is equivalent to 180 milligrams at a time. And I was doing that about three to four times a day,” said Christopher Martin.
That was seven years into Martin’s addiction to opioid painkillers. His Percocet prescription for a torn back muscle, combined with a history of using alcohol and marijuana, created the perfect storm.
“I gained a very high tolerance for them and continued to use more and more until the point where I couldn’t afford it and I turned to heroin,” he said.
Opioid abuse has become so pervasive, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the U.S. is in the grips of an epidemic. The agency is issuing new guidelines for primary care physicians when prescribing the opioids for chronic pain.
There are 12 guidelines in total, but they’re formed around three principles.
Doctor’s should use non-opiate therapy first when treating chronic pain, excluding cancer, palliative and end-of-life care. When it is prescribed, doctors should use the lowest possible effective dosage and exercise more caution along with closely monitoring patients.
“It’s the first time the federal government is communicating clearly to the medical community that using highly addictive drugs long term for common problems is a bad idea, that it’s inappropriate that it’s practice needs to change,” said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, executive director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing.
According to the CDC, about 40 Americans die every day from prescription opioid overdoses.
And in 2013, 249 million opioid painkiller prescriptions were written. That’s enough for every American adult to have a bottle of pills.
Angelo Jiosi is one.
“It’s the devil, it really is. Within three months of trying heroin, I lost everything,” he said.
The guidelines are intended to help doctors determine when to use the drugs, how much to dispense and which type to choose.
“We still have in this society where insurers are really deciding the care for patients and, unfortunately, sometimes putting people on opioids are cheaper, not necessarily as effective, but cheaper than treating the problem appropriately,” said Dr. Peter Staats, president of the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians.
He believes the CDC should urge doctors to seek the opinion of pain experts during treatments.
“Unfortunately I’ve been using heroin for about four years now. I’ve been in and out of programs. Just trying to get my life back together, trying to get a grip on the addiction part of it,” Martin said.
The CDC’s recommendations are just that. Doctors aren’t legally obligated to follow the guidelines. And while many in health care say they’d like to see it taken a step further, they believe this will have an influence in helping both patients and doctors weigh the benefits and the risks.
For more stories that are part of the initiative Healthy NJ: New Jersey’s Drug Addiction Crisis, click here.