By Dr. Bartley Bryt
We are an instant-gratification society. Take, for example, our online shopping habits. If a vendor can’t ship your item immediately, you’ll buy it elsewhere. We want everything NOW.
Medicine and health, however, are long-term propositions. For example, you can’t fix someone’s diabetes overnight. It takes years of changing habits and modifying behavior to see results. Quick fixes and knee-jerk reactions are rarely the right responses to health issues.
So, too, with the opioid epidemic that’s swept across the country in record speed.
The opioid crisis stemmed from a combination of factors that created a perfect storm: the establishment of pain societies by doctors who were focused on alleviating pain and their success in elevating the importance of pain relief; pharmaceutical companies motivated by profits; and politicians who jumped on the “crisis of the moment.”
The result was a 300% increase in opioid prescriptions in under 20 years (from 1992-2010).1 Today more than 12 million Americans abuse prescription pain relievers. Overdose deaths from prescription pain relievers increased more than 400% among women and 237% among men in a 10-year period.2
But the reaction to the opioid crisis has been unbalanced as well. Opiates serve a purpose and do have a place in a doctor’s prescription arsenal. Hysteria, however, does not. We risk overreacting now, as we did in 1995 when we as a society condemned medical professionals for not treating pain aggressively enough. If we legislate prescription limits too hastily and too rigidly, we run the risk that on Friday afternoons there will be people lining up at the pharmacy screaming in pain, frustrated that they cannot refill their prescriptions. Let’s let the professionals guide us as we address this public health issue.
The opioid crisis and the current reaction to it are emblematic of our “now” society. Let’s drive the thoughtful, measured approach we need. Let’s avoid band-aids and quick fixes – both of which may be short-sighted.
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Dr. Bartley Bryt is Chief Medical Officer at Brighton Health Plan Solutions (BHPS), an innovative health care enablement company with several industry-leading brands. BHPS’s new Create® health plan partners with local health systems of doctors and hospitals. These provider networks compete in the Create marketplace, delivering better health care at lower cost to employers in the New York tri-state area.