By Alexander Germanis
Drug abuse is a plague of the modern era. It is a serious problem that negatively affects individuals, families, and even entire communities. Our community of Bloomington-Normal is, unfortunately, not immune to its influence.
Opioids are one of those drugs that is not only abused by a large percent of the population, but the level of abuse is on the rise.
Fortunately, there are some physicians like our own Dr. Ramsin Benyamin, founder and medical director of Millennium Pain Center in Bloomington, who are constantly seeking ways to curb opioid use and reduce the number of those suffering from the ill affects of abuse.
As explained in previous articles on this topic, opioids are synthetic narcotics with opium-like effects. While they are becoming more prevalent in legally prescribed painkiller applications, opioid use on the black market is also on the increase.
Representing the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians (ASIPP) this last February, Dr. Benyamin addressed the United States House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee not only on the dangers of opioids but also on how the threat opioids represent can be diminished.
While “suggesting more effective legislative efforts to curb opioid abuse and reduce opioid deaths, while maintaining appropriate access and the promotion of nonopioid modalities available,” Dr. Benyamin proposed a three-tier approach to achieving these goals.
Tier one encompasses education. Knowing and understanding the dangers of drug use is an important first step — not only for patients, but also for the physicians who prescribe them.
The first portion of the education tier is aimed toward prevention. The ASIPP suggests “an aggressive public education campaign with explicit teaching on the dangers of the use of illicit drugs, specifically heroin and fentanyl.”
Preventive education is, of course, nothing new. In the 1980s and early 90s, the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program was launched in schools across the country with an aim to educate the nation’s youth on the dangers of drug abuse. So, educating the public is a longstanding initial step.
The aim of public education continues in the first tier, specifically “relating to the adverse consequences of opioid abuse in general with emphasis on the adverse consequences in combination with benzodiazepines,” Dr. Benyamin said.
Benzodiazepines are tranquilizers commonly used to treat anxiety, of which Xanax and Valium are some of the most recognizable. As they are one of the most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States, education about their interaction with opioids is paramount.
Dr. Benyamin revealed just how important the public considers education in these matters but how little personal culpability many are willing to take. “A recent survey published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that the public blames the opioid crisis on physicians, pharmacists, and pharmaceutical companies without putting much responsibility on patients,” he shared. “In addition, the public believes that public education and awareness programs are effective in a large proportion of patients.”
“46 percent of the public puts the blame on doctors who inappropriately prescribe medication, and 13 percent put the blame on pharmaceutical companies that sell prescription medication,” he continued. “But only 28 percent blame people who sell prescription painkillers illegally, and 10 percent put the blame on people who take prescription pain killers.”
Erasing that lack of education in the general public is a vital first step in preventing further opioid abuse. The same can be said about many in the medical field, however. As Dr. Benyamin went on to suggest, there should be “mandatory physician education for all prescribers of any amount of opioids or benzodiazepines with a mandated requirement of four hours of continuing education per year.”
Properly educating the prescriber would then extend to mandatory patient education when any amount of an opioid is first prescribed.
While education is important, Dr. Benyamin reminds us it is not everything. More needs to be done if the opioid crisis is to be impeded.
To learn more about the course of action suggested to Congress, read the continuation of this series in the next issue of Healthy Cells Magazine. If you missed the previous articles, you may read them online at www.HealthyCellsBN.com
or contact Cheryl at 309-664-2524.
For more information on any type of pain, you may contact Millennium Pain Center at 309-662-4321 or www.millenniumpaincenter.com. Their new office is located at 2406 E. Empire in Bloomington. The practice provides the most advanced and comprehensive pain management for a wide variety of conditions. Drs. Benyamin and Vallejo have been selected among 70 of the Best Pain Physicians in America.