Myths About the Opioid Crisis

Some common ideas about the opioid crisis are simply not true.

Ever been given a painkiller before a surgery or after an injury? The drug was to help relieve the symptoms of pain — the physical expression your body creates in response to its malfunction.

Bet you didn't get addicted on the drug you were given. How can I make such a heady bet in the face of America's opioid crisis? Because the truth is that only 1 percent of patients prescribed an opioid drug for pain alleviation become addicted.

Yet, in dealing with the opioid crisis, the emphasis has been on the widespread use of doctor-prescribed medicines. Even the pharmaceutical company that created OxyContin has decided to stop advertising to doctors' offices.

But as America combats its opioid crisis, it is also battling a number of myths and untruths about the problem. In the zeal to help, would-be problem-solvers are seemingly diverting attention away from the real struggles.

I recently came across this discussion from Dr. Jeffrey Singer of the Cato Institute. In this brief video, he addresses several myths about the opioid crisis that deserve serious consideration.

The first is the small number of prescription users who become addicts. A corollary is that addicts tend to start out as patients.

In reality, however, it's not in the medical use of their prescriptions that patients become addicts. Singer explains that as the overdose rate climbs, the number of people being prescribed opioid medications is actually declining.

Singer says the problem arises because of the decline in prescriptions. With the pressure on doctors to take their patients off of opioid-based medications, patients are going drug-seeking on the streets to help control their pain. Sanitation issues aside, heroin on the street is often laced with Fentanyl, which is exponentially more potent than heroin alone. Patients are not dosing correctly when left to themselves to find opioids. Indeed, they can barely control the amount of drugs they're ingesting.

As an aside, Singer points to an interesting phenomenon: in states where marijuana is legal, opioid drug overdoses are declining.

Another myth is the idea that cutting back on prescription opioids will slow the overdose rate. Singer argues that simply won't happen because the vast majority of overdose deaths are not from prescription drugs, but from heroin and Fentanyl. Heroin is now cheaper and easier to obtain on the streets than prescription opioids.

I'll be the first to admit it: I fell prey to these myths to some degree for quite some time. But after considering Singer's discussion, I think it's important to inform people with accurate information about the crisis. Knowing the facts of a problem helps to shape more accurate solutions.