The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) classifies opioids into the following three main groups: illicit drug heroin; synthetic opioids (such as fentanyl and tramadol); and natural and semi-synthetic opioids that are usually prescribed by doctors to relieve pain (such as codeine, oxycodone, morphine, and hydrocodone) (Scavette 1). All opioids can be abused, leading to overdose incidents, addiction, newborns with withdrawal syndrome, and even deaths (Scavette 1). Between 2019 and 2020, 50,000 persons in the U.S. died from an opioid-related overdose. This accounted for more than 70% of about 70,600 deaths involving drug overdose (Centers for Disease Control 1; National Institute of Drug Abuse 1). Therefore, opioid overdose is a real epidemic in the U.S. This justifies the need for all key policymakers at Federal, state and local levels to collaboratively develop and implement measures essential to addressing the opioid crisis.
Issue and its Importance
The abuse of opioids and addiction to them, including prescription and non-prescription ones, is a serious global crisis that adversely affects socio-economic welfare. Increased prescription of opioids resulted in widespread abuse of opioids before healthcare providers discovered that the medications could be addictive (HHS.Gov 1; Kaye et al. 95). Approximately 1.6 million people suffered an opioid misuse disorder in 2020. In the U.S. alone, the overall annual economic burden associated with prescription opioid abuse is estimated at $78.5 billion. This includes the costs of public healthcare, productivity loss, addiction medication, and criminal liabilities (National Institute of Drug Abuse 1). The Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) estimates the annual economic burden of the overall opioid crisis at over $500 billion (Council of Economic Advisers 1). Even when prescribed by professional doctors, patients can become addicted to opioids. In fact, nearly 25% of patients under long-term opioid treatment in primary care settings struggle with addition. Even worse, prolonged consumption of prescription opioids can lead to death due to severe breathing problems (Centers for Disease Control 1). Therefore, opioid abuse is a serious crisis that should be collaboratively addressed by relevant stakeholders.
Theory of Ethical Behavior
Altruistic hedonism is the theory of ethical behavior that can provide a justification for opioid medications. Basically, this theory entails the belief that a course of action is morally right if it creates pleasure for everybody. Altruistic hedonism justifies opioid medications as an ethical course of action because opioids are proven pain relievers, especially when treatment decisions are informed by standard healthcare ethics. However, to deliver maximum benefits for all, appropriate measures must be taken to avoid opioid abuse incidents because of self-medication, compulsive usage due to addiction, and diversion for financial advantage.
Call to Action
Opioid medications are well accepted for treating different chronic painful disorders. However, it is widely acknowledged that prolonged use of opioids can lead to psychological addiction, respiratory depression, hormonal dysfunction, myoclonus, muscle rigidity, and even death (Sehgal et al. 68). Furthermore, opioids have a huge socio-economic burden. For instance, the total opioid crisis attracts an economic burden of more than $500 billion annually (Council of Economic Advisers 1). Considering the seriousness of the opioid crisis, it is important to formulate policies that can help improve how pain is treated and how opioid misuse, addiction and overdose can be effectively prevented.
Generally, opioids are safe if taken as prescribed by medical professionals. However, opioids can induce euphoria and relief pain, thus they are often misused. Opioid abuse can result in dependence, overdose, addition, and deaths. In fact, opioid abuse is a serious crisis in the U.S. and around the world. It claims over tens of thousands of lives every year. In 2019, opioid-related overdose claimed nearly 50,000 lives in the U.S. alone. Moreover, the crisis is costing the global economy more than $500 billion annually. However, the root causes of the opioid crisis appear to have been greatly ignored over the years. Overdependence on opioid treatment is symbolic of a healthcare system that encourages fast, simple answers to severe health needs. Furthermore, simply cutting opioid accessibility is an ill-conceived control against this multidimensional life-threatening and economically draining challenge. Therefore, policymakers ought to focus on treating the underlying causes of opioid overdose deaths in order to successfully counter this societal crisis.
Centers for Disease Control. Understanding the Epidemic. CDC.gov. 2021. Web. 7 May 2021.
Council of Economic Advisers. The Role of Opioid Prices in the Evolving Opioid Crisis. 2019: 1-52. PDF File.
HHS.Gov. What is the U.S. Opioid Epidemic? HHS.Gov. 2021. Web. 13 December 2021.
Kaye, Alan D., et al. Prescription opioid abuse in chronic pain: An updated review of opioid abuse predictors and strategies to curb opioid abuse. Pain physician 20.2S (2017): S93-S109.
National Institute of Drug Abuse. Opioids. DrugAbuse.gov. 2021. Web. 7 May 2021.
Scavette, Adam. Exploring the Economic Effects of the Opioid Epidemic. Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia Research Department. 2019: 1-5. PDF File.
Sehgal, Nalini et al. Prescription opioid abuse in chronic pain: A review of opioid abuse predictors and strategies to curb opioid abuse. Pain Physician 15.3 (2012): 67-92.