Recognizing the Devastating Impact of Opioid Use

Used properly, the prescription pain pills known as opioids can be highly effective. They are also highly addictive. Last week, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, M.D., sent a letter to 2.3 million U.S. physicians asking for their help in solving our nation’s opioid-addiction epidemic.

Murthy pointed out that, nearly two decades ago, physicians were encouraged to be more aggressive about treating pain. Many were even taught — incorrectly — that opioids are not addictive when prescribed for legitimate pain.

The consequences have been devastating: an epidemic of opioid use that continues to impact communities large and small, rich and poor, around our region and across our nation. No social, racial, gender, age, or demographic group is immune.

According to the surgeon general, opioid prescriptions have increased markedly in the past two decades, and now nearly two million people in America have a prescription opioid-use disorder. This is also contributing to increased use of heroin, which is essentially the same chemically as opioid pain pills, and to the spread of HIV and hepatitis C. Nationally, opioid overdose deaths have quadrupled since 1999. Here in Massachusetts, four people die every day, on average, from overdose.

The Center for Human Development (CHD) is pleased that the surgeon general recognizes the opioid epidemic as a national health crisis. We hope that leaders everywhere in the health profession, law enforcement, education, and government will join us in fighting the opioid crisis from its foundation:

• We must learn more about pain management and effective treatment options that minimize or remove the risk of addiction;

• We must all acknowledge, as the surgeon general does, that addiction is a chronic illness, not a moral failing; and

• We must work to remove the stigma that too many people attach to addiction so no one feels too ashamed to seek treatment for themselves or loved ones.

Treating addiction as a disease is critical, but the long-term solution is prevention. Considering the costs of addiction — in lives shattered and resources consumed, and to individuals, families, communities, and our economy — serious prevention efforts will pay for themselves, over and over.

For help with opioid treatment or prevention, call CDH at (844) 243-4357.

Jim Goodwin is president and CEO of the Center for Human Development.

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