Opiate Use in Washington State
Washington State, like much of the United States, has seen a tremendous increase in the use and negative consequences of prescription opiates over the last ten to fifteen years. Prescription opiates appear to be a pathway to heroin for many users.
High-strength painkillers known as opiates are the most widely prescribed class of medications in the United States. Over the last decade, prescriptions for the strongest opiates have increased almost fourfold.
Opiate use in Washington State also includes heroin abuse. Many times, when prescription pills become unavailable or too expensive, abusers turn to heroin. This is creating a whole new class of heroin users in Washington State. The illegal heroin trade is spreading from the inner cities to the wealthy suburbs.
Opiate Use in Washington State: Crackdown
Opiate use and addiction is a problem throughout the United States, but the most aggressive effort to change old habits is underway in Washington State. Last year, lawmakers imposed new requirements on doctors to refer patients taking high dosages of opiates (which include hydrocodone, fentanyl , methadone, and oxycodone) for evaluation by a pain specialist if their underlying condition is not improving. Gone are the days when doctors could keep patients on opiates for years without any follow up action.
Opiate Use in Washington State: Controversy
Even before the new laws were enacted, some doctors stopped treating pain patients, and more have followed suit. Unfortunately, these types of medications help countless patients, and many of them now find themselves out of luck when seeking treatment. This has caused some controversy, as even doctors who were prescribing medications responsibly have decided to turn away patients they’ve been treating for years to avoid the new regulations.
Proponents of the new laws, however, claim that these new rules are a “necessary evil” in order to crackdown on opiate use in Washington State. Even some supporters, however, believe the law needs reworking as many legitimate pain patients are not receiving care.
Much of the criticism of the new law appears to be the arbitrary dose levels that are set by the state. Once a patient has reached a certain dosage, they are required by law to have a consultation by a pain specialist. And while many states have enacted laws to try to curb prescription opiate abuse, the dose limit is unique to Washington State. There are also no systems in place to monitor the effect of these new laws on patient care.
Opiate Use in Washington State: Alarm Bells
Officials in Washington State first became alarmed when a growing number of worker’s compensation programs died of overdoses involving prescription opiates. In addition, over the course of just a few years, the strength of the average daily dose of opiates prescribed to patients treated through the workers’ compensation program had increased by more than 50 percent.
Doctors often increase the dosage of opiate painkillers because patients develop tolerance and need greater amounts to get the same effect. However, when you have doctors increasing the dose and not monitoring patients, the results can be deadly.