Stop the over-prescription of opioids

Stop the over-prescription of opioids
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Over the last year, in communities all across the country, 1.4 million Americans started abusing opioids. Every day, 51 more people are killed by an overdose. We’ve seen enough data to know that this is a crisis.

Why are so many people with no history of drug use becoming addicted to opioids? One of the most culpable root causes — one that we can quickly fix, if Congress and the medical community are willing to act — is the over-prescription of opioids. Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced new guidelines for medical professionals about when and how much opioid medication is appropriate to prescribe for chronic pain. These guidelines are a necessary step, but they don’t fully account for one of the main sources of new addictions: over-prescriptions for acute pain. Our bipartisan bill, the Preventing Overprescribing for Pain Act, would help fix this.

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Right now, when someone experiences acute pain — a broken arm or a wisdom tooth extraction — there are no comprehensive guidelines to inform that physician how much medication they can safely prescribe without putting the patient at risk for addiction. There are no guidelines to advise a medical professional about when it’s appropriate to prescribe opioids or something nonaddictive but also effective. When someone gets a molar fixed or has a minor surgery and only needs medicine for three days, it’s inexcusable to send that person home with a month’s dose of heavy painkillers.

Without guidance, we end up with a tragic cycle that just won’t go away: Thousands of men and women go in for routine treatments — treatments that don’t require more than a small dose of pain medication, for just a few days — and they leave with far more or far stronger medicine than they need. They become addicted, or they give the extra pills to a friend or family member who misuses the medication, or they leave them unguarded in a medicine cabinet for a child to take.

We all have people in our lives who have been hurt by this crisis. One of them was a young man named Sean. He was the co-captain of his high school football team, and he had that rare ability to connect with anyone, whether you had a disability or were his teammate. After high school, Sean got a good job as a construction worker, and one day, when he was working, he broke his arm.

Sean’s doctor gave him a prescription for oxycodone, a powerful opioid, to mask his pain. By the time the prescription finally ran out, Sean was already addicted. He couldn’t shake it, as much as he tried. He started using heroin. He tried to quit, again and again. Last fall, Sean died of an overdose. He was 22.

Congress and the medical community have a responsibility to confront this crisis. The CDC has taken the right step in targeting the over-prescription of opioid painkillers for chronic pain, and now it needs to do the same for acute pain. We urge all of our colleagues to support our bipartisan bill. Let’s finally start fighting back against one of the main causes of our opioid addiction crisis.

Gillibrand is New York’s junior senator, serving since 2009. She sits on the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry; the Armed Services; and the Environment and Public Works committees. Capito is West Virginia’s junior senator, serving since 2015. She sits on the Appropriations; the Energy and Natural Resources; the Environment and Public Works; and the Rules committees.