Opioid Safety in America

In this article, Cal Cook (Consumer Finance Investigator, ConsumerSafety.Org) discusses resources for opioid safety, including checking lawsuits involving prescription medication.

By Cal Cook (Consumer Finance Investigator, ConsumerSafety.Org) investigates and writes about consumer-focused topics including finance, scams and safety. His passion lies in exposing fraud across all industries to protect consumers.

If you’re an American reading this, you’ve probably heard over the course of the last year or two how the opioid epidemic is getting out of hand. Nearly 70,000 people overdosed in 2017, making this epidemic even more deadly than breast cancer for the year.

Not all of those deaths were directly attributable to prescription medication, but many of the victims started with pills their doctor prescribed and went on to heroin and Fentanyl once they were addicted, because the more dangerous street drugs are cheaper.

But opioids don’t have to lead to such destructive outcomes. In many cases they can be useful pain medications, so long as their intake is monitored closely. Representing a population segment that has been unfortunately ravaged by the effects of opioid addiction, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has recently published an Opioid Safety Resource with educational media for both patients and providers.

Their patient use guideline offers tips like:

  • Read all medication documentation and side effects and discuss these with your doctor
  • Store opioid medications out of reach from children
  • Create set followups with your care provider to minimize risk of addiction
  • Only take pills you were prescribed and never take those from a friend, as you can’t verify the source

Another useful patient safety strategy that’s a bit less common is to search for lawsuits involving prescription medications you are considering. This is information that’s likely not readily available to your doctor, and a quick Google search or two can uncover reasons to avoid one drug or consider alternatives. An example of this approach involves the recent Xarelto lawsuits. This prescription drug was causing deaths from internal bleeding for years, while many doctors were still prescribing it. But searching for lawsuits would have uncovered that there were in fact several outstanding, which should lead the patient to consider safer options. In December of 2017, Bayer had to pay almost $30 million in settlements in one of the lawsuits against Xarelto.

One of the best opioid safety tips, counterintuitively, is to totally avoid opioids whenever possible. This is even what the VA guidelines recommend. There are many alternative treatments for pain management, from lower-risk drugs like Aspirin to holistic therapies like meditation. Inflammation in the body can cause or worsen chronic pain conditions, and even dietary therapies focusing on an anti-inflammatory diet can significantly reduce symptoms.

None of this is to say that prescription opioids should never be prescribed, or that doctors who prescribe these drugs are unethical. Rather, it’s just that the paradigm needs to shift so that opioids are the absolute last-gasp treatment when all other options have been exhausted. All too often we hear patient stories today about opioids being the first-line treatment, which is not in the interest of the long-term health of the patient, even if they do present with chronic pain. Together, by making a concerted effort to practice opioid safety, we can significantly reduce that 70,000 overdose figure from 2017. And every single life counts.

Cal Cook
Cal Cook

Cal Cook investigates and writes about consumer-focused topics including finance, scams and safety. His passion lies in exposing fraud across all industries to protect consumers. 

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