State legislators combat addiction epidemic

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April 12, 2016

Royal Purple Staff Opinion

Last month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released guidelines in an attempt to rein in the prescribing of opioid painkillers to address chronic pain.

The guidelines came in response to more than 165,000 overdose deaths, along with quadrupling painkiller prescriptions in the United States in the past 15 years. More than 40 Americans die each day from prescription opioid overdoses, according to CDC Director Tom Frieden.

A week after the CDC released its new guidelines, Gov. Scott Walker signed a series of bills, pushed largely by state Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) as part of the Heroin Opioid Prevention and Education (HOPE) agenda. Its intent is to stifle heroin and prescription painkiller abuse in Wisconsin.

The main bill that will affect physicians is the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP). The PDMP will create a statewide database to house information and account for which medications a patient is prescribed. The law is supposed to prevent patients from “doctor shopping” in an attempt to obtain painkiller prescriptions.

At the Royal Purple, we believe the new legislation is a step in the right direction to reign in our state’s drug problem, but we also feel that more can be done. We encourage students to write their representatives and ask that legislation more closely tailored to the CDC’s guidelines also be drafted to more effectively address the prescription drug and heroin epidemic.

When prescribing opiate painkillers like oxycodone or hydrocodone, the CDC recommends that doctors start with low doses prescribed for less than seven days. The CDC also recommends that doctors make sure patients know how addictive the drugs can be and check patient-monitoring systems (like the PDMP database) to ensure that patients aren’t getting drugs from multiple physicians.

Wisconsin’s PDMP bill addresses the last suggestion, but we believe legislators should consider implementing the other guidelines as policy as well. In doing so, they could more effectively prevent patients from developing opiate addictions in the first place.

Opiate withdrawals make kicking the drug incredibly hard for patients turned addicts. Withdrawals can include anxiety, muscle aches, insomnia, nausea, vomiting and even hallucinations, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM). By implementing all of the CDC’s guidelines as law, legislatures could more effectively prevent opiate addictions.    

Current data makes it explicitly clear that, like the rest of the country, we are in fact dealing with a drug epidemic in our state. 

Heroin and prescription drugs combined for 608 overdose deaths in Wisconsin in 2013, according to a state report from last year. That means that drug overdoses now kill more Wisconsin residents than traffic accidents.

In 2015, 255 people died from drug overdoses in Wisconsin, according to data released by the Milwaukee County medical examiner’s office. That’s a 53 percent increase from 2012, and the average age of those deceased from drug overdose was 43. 

More data found that nearly half of all drug overdose deaths in Milwaukee County in the past four years were adults between ages 30 and 59, according to an analysis from the office of Milwaukee Common Council President Michael Murphy.

We don’t generally think of the middle-aged as the people dying from drug overdoses, but that’s exactly what the data is telling us. We must work together with our representatives to create legislation that will focus on reining in the prescribing of opiate painkillers in the first place.

Wisconsin legislators should consider adopting all of the CDC’s guidelines as policy. In doing so, they could more effectively prevent the spread of opiate addiction in our state before the prescriptions are even written.