The Escalation of Opioid Abuse in US and UK
News article published on: 24th June 2019
In February 2019, the Sunday Times investigated the extent of opioid related deaths in this country. Back then there were 2,000 recorded deaths every year an increase of 41% from the previous decade. Professor John Strange, head of the addictions department at Kings College, London was reported to say in The Lancet Psychiatry journal “This marked increase in avoidable mortality must be recognised as a public health crisis”.
This crisis is now occurring within some parts of the UK such as Swansea, Norwich, Worthing, Bournemouth and the Isle of Wight – cities and towns with the highest opioid related death rates in the country.
Opioids are easily accessible for those who want to get them. They are prescribed for patients with short term ongoing pain and terminal conditions such as cancer. However, some patients with chronic pain are being prescribed opioids for months or even years and it is now a public health crisis. The addictive nature of such drugs means that it becomes increasingly difficult for patients to stop taking them. In fact often long term use leads to misuse and addiction.
In the USA, it is reported that every day more than 130 people die after overdosing on opioids, such as prescription pain relief, heroin, or synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. This is certainly a serious national crisis as it affects public health and social and economic welfare.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that ‘the total “economic burden” of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion a year, including the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.’ The rising toll of opioid overdose deaths is at the forefront of the US and Canadian governments’ attention.
Here in the UK, we too are experiencing an escalation of opioid abuse and are following the US, which is worrying. The Sunday Times has stated the the UK government ‘must declare a public health crisis over the rising number of opioid related deaths’.
It has been suggested that there should be ‘restrictions on the availability of opioid prescriptions for chronic non cancer pain’. Although a small initial step, it is a significant one in the right direction before the UK statistics move in the wrong way and follow the same pattern of addiction in the US.