Teen Misuse of Rx Opioids at Historic Lows

By Pat Anson, Editor

Misuse of opioid pain medication by American teenagers is at an historic low, according to a nationwide survey that also found prescription painkillers have become increasingly harder for teens to obtain.

Nearly 44,000 students in 8th, 10th or 12th grade were questioned about their drug use in the University of Michigan’s annual Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey. Overall, the number of teens drinking, smoking and abusing drugs is at the lowest level since the 1990’s, although marijuana use spiked upward in 2017.

While the so-called opioid epidemic continues to make national headlines, misuse of prescription painkillers by teenagers has been steadily falling for over a decade.

The survey found that 4.2% of 12th graders used “narcotics other than heroin” in the past year, down from 9.4% in 2002.

Only 35.8% of high school seniors said the drugs were easily available in the 2017 survey, compared to more than 54 percent in 2010.

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“We’re observing some of the lowest rates of opioid use that we have been monitoring through the survey. So that’s very good news,” said Norah Volkow, MD, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. "The decline in both the misuse and perceived availability of opioid medications may reflect recent public health initiatives to discourage opioid misuse to address this crisis."

The misuse of the painkiller Vicodin continues a decade long decline, falling to 2.9% of high school seniors in 2017. That’s down from 10.5% of seniors in 2003. Similar declines were reported in the misuse of OxyContin.

Marijuana use by teenagers rose by 1.3% to 24 percent in 2017, the first significant increase in seven years.

“This increase has been expected by many,” said Richard Miech, lead investigator of the study. “Historically marijuana use has gone up as adolescents see less risk of harm in using it. We’ve found that the risk adolescents see in marijuana use has been steadily going down for years to the point that it is now at the lowest level we’ve seen in four decades.”

For the first time, the survey asked students about vaping.  Nearly 28 percent of high school seniors said they had used a vaping device in 2017. A little over half said the mist they inhaled was "just flavoring," about a third said they inhaled nicotine, and 11% said they vaped marijuana or hash oil.

After years of steady decline, binge drinking appears to have hit bottom. Nearly 17 percent of 12th graders said they had five or more alcoholic drinks in a row sometime in the last two weeks. That’s a lot, but it's down from 31.5% in 1998.

FDA Head Tweets New Warning About Kratom

By Pat Anson, Editor

The head of the Food and Drug Administration is warning again about the marketing of kratom and other dietary supplements to treat opioid addiction – calling them “health fraud scams.”

“FDA believes strongly people addicted to opioids should have access to safe and effective, approved treatments for addiction. Unfortunately, unscrupulous vendors are trying to capitalize on opioid epidemic by illegally marketing products for these purposes,” FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, warned on Twitter Friday.

Gottlieb was reacting to a story in The New York Times about the marketing of dietary supplements like “Opiate Detox Pro,” a blend of vitamins and amino acids said to have “amazing benefits” in reducing opioid withdrawal symptoms. 

Similar claims are made about kratom by websites such as HowtoQuitHeroin.com, which was founded by Jorge Fernandez, a recovering heroin addict.

“Kratom works. Kratom helps. It can help you to quit heroin. It can help you to quit Suboxone. It can help you to quit Oxycontin. And believe it or not, it can even help you to quit Methadone as well,” Fernandez claims.

Kratom is not approved by the FDA as a treatment for opioid addiction or any other health condition. But because kratom is classified as a dietary supplement, it’s not held up to the same regulatory standards as pharmaceutical drugs -- as long as vendors don’t make any misleading claims about its health benefits. That’s when the FDA can intervene by seizing kratom products or prohibiting their sale.

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“They’re marketing products as dietary supplements with unproven claims about ability to treat addiction; or as all-natural alternatives to opioids. Health fraud scams like these can pose serious health risks,” Gottlieb tweeted. “FDA will continue to act when it learns of the deceptive sale or advertising of products that claim to effectively treat opioid use disorder, but which have not been proven safe and effective for these purposes.”

SCOTT GOTTLIEB, MD

SCOTT GOTTLIEB, MD

Although Gottlieb didn’t specifically name kratom as one of those “health fraud scams,” there’s little doubt that’s one of the supplements he was referring to. Last month the FDA issued a public health advisory about kratom, warning that it was addictive and linked to dozens of overdose deaths.

“The FDA knows people are using kratom to treat conditions like pain, anxiety and depression, which are serious medical conditions that require proper diagnosis and oversight from a licensed health care provider,” Gootlieb said at the time.

“I understand that there’s a lot of interest in the possibility for kratom to be used as a potential therapy for a range of disorders. But the FDA has a science-based obligation that supersedes popular trends and relies on evidence.”

Kratom comes from the leaves of a tree that grows in southeast Asia, where it has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties. The leaves are usually ground up to make tea or turned into powder and used in capsules. Most kratom users say the herb has a mild analgesic and stimulative effect, similar to coffee.

In a survey of 6,150 kratom users last year by Pain News Network and the American Kratom Association, most said they used kratom as a treatment for chronic pain, depression or anxiety. But a fair number -- nearly 10 percent -- said the primary reason they used kratom was to treat opioid addiction.

“Kratom is the one thing that has kept me from using opiates and other illegal substances. I've been able to stay clean for 3 years now. It's given me my life back,” one survey respondent wrote.

“Kratom is the only reason I was finally able to end my addiction to hydrocodone. It is nowhere near as potent as hydrocodone, and you can't overdose” said another.

“It has saved my life. I am a mother of four and have anxiety, depression, acute back pain, and I am an opioid addict. It has kept all these at bay for me,” one woman wrote. “I want to be there for my children, but the sad truth is I know I can't live with these conditions and not find something. It's a sad day when I have to turn to the streets again to have any kind of life.”

“I've had several friends who have died from heroin overdose if they knew about kratom they may still be alive today,” wrote another kratom user.

Last year, the Drug Enforcement Administration attempted to list kratom’s two active ingredients as Schedule I controlled substances, which would have made it a felony to possess or sell kratom. The DEA suspended its plan after a public outcry and lobbying campaign by kratom supporters, saying it would wait for a medical evaluation and scheduling recommendation for kratom from the FDA. Although the FDA has warned the public about using kratom, its full report and recommendations have yet to be released.

3 Reasons the Opioid Crisis is Getting Worse

By Roger Chriss, Columnist

The opioid crisis is now a public health emergency. The CDC reports increasing rates of fentanyl overdoses.  And The Economist warns the crisis is entering “a new and deadlier phase.”

The strategy to stop the overdose epidemic has largely focused on the supply side: limiting access to prescription opioids. History seems to support this idea. Two hundred years ago, a tincture of opium called laudanum was widely used to treat all kinds of ailments.  The “epidemic of laudanum” didn’t end until 1906, when the federal government got involved and started regulating opium-based medications.

So it seemed natural to curtail opioid prescribing. Washington State issued prescription opioid guidelines in 2010, Oregon in 2012, and the CDC in 2016. Other states followed with laws limiting the number of days opioids could be prescribed for short term, acute pain. Health insurers like Kaiser Permanente and Intermountain Healthcare have also reduced coverage of prescription opioids and drug store chains like CVS will be limiting prescription length and dose. 

In a narrow sense, this is working. Prescription opioid levels peaked in 2010, as a result of lower production quotas mandated by the DEA and reduced prescribing in a variety of clinical settings.

But in a broader sense, the focus on prescription opioid levels is failing. Opioid addiction and overdose rates continue to climb, despite the reduced availability of prescription opioids. There are three reasons for this.

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First, the main drivers in the crisis are now heroin and illicit fentanyl. Importantly, heroin is increasingly the first opioid of abuse.

“As the most commonly prescribed opioids - hydrocodone and oxycodone - became less accessible due to supply-side interventions, the use of heroin as an initiating opioid has grown at an alarming rate,” researchers recently reported in the journal of Addictive Behaviors.

Second, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 75% of all opioid misuse starts with people taking medication that was not prescribed to them. These pills are sourced from friends, stolen from other people’s prescription bottles, or purchased online illegally.

Contrary to common belief, opioid therapy for chronic pain conditions rarely leads to misuse or addiction. Most addictive behaviors start during adolescence, usually with substances like alcohol or tobacco, long before anyone gets their hands on opioid medication.

Third, nearly 10% of drug overdoses are intentional.

"Hidden behind the terrible epidemic of opioid overdose deaths looms the fact that many of these deaths are far from accidental. They are suicides,” wrote Dr. Maria Oquendo, President of the American Psychiatric Association, in a blog for the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

In other words, the crisis may have started with prescription opioids, but it has evolved. We are now facing a crisis driven primarily by heroin, illicit fentanyl, and other street drugs, as well as social and economic conditions that have led to an "epidemic of despair."

Therefore, the current intense focus on prescription opioids -- from the CDC’s Rx Awareness campaign to the recommendations of the President Trump’s opioid commission -- is woefully off target. Reducing access to prescription opioids has not decreased addiction and overdose rates, and may actually be making them worse.

Exactly what will be required to end the crisis is not clear. But an essential step is to understand the nature of the crisis as it stands today so as to end the opioid disconnect.

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Roger Chriss lives with Ehlers Danlos syndrome and is a proud member of the Ehlers-Danlos Society.

Roger is a technical consultant in Washington state, where he specializes in mathematics and research.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

Trump Commission Seeks More Limits on Rx Opioids

By Pat Anson, Editor

President Trump’s opioid commission released its final report Wednesday, an ambitious list of over four dozen recommendations aimed at treating addiction, preventing overdoses, and further restrictions on opioid prescribing.   

“This crisis can be fought with effective medical education, voluntary or involuntary changes in prescribing practices, and a strong regulatory and enforcement environment,” the commission said in its report.

The president established the commission in March to give him a list of recommendations to combat drug addiction and the overdose crisis. 

“Our people are dying. One hundred seventy-five people a day, every day, are dying in the United States from this epidemic,” said commission chairman Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, one of five politicians who served on the six member panel.

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“If a terrorist organization was killing 175 Americans every day on American soil, what would you be willing to pay to make it stop? I think we’d be willing to do anything and everything to make it stop. And that’s the way we now need to see this, because this is an attack from within. We are killing ourselves.”

The commission’s 131-page report did not spell out how much money would be needed to implement the panel’s wish list of 56 recommendations.

Chief among them was to get drug makers and the National Institutes of Health to work together developing new non-opioid painkillers and addiction treatment medications.

“It is inexcusable that the major pharmaceutical companies in this country have stood on the sidelines during this crisis. And they have,” said Christie.

New Prescribing Guideline to Supplement CDC's

The commission is also recommending that a new set of guidelines for opioid prescribing be developed to “supplement” the guideline released last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  It was not immediately clear if the new guidelines would replace, weaken or strengthen the CDC’s recommendations, or simply expand their use throughout the healthcare system.

“An updated set of guidelines for prescription pain medications should be established by an expert committee composed of various specialty practices to supplement the CDC guideline that are specifically targeted to primary care physicians,” the report says.

The commission recommended that federal regulators require patients to give informed consent about the risks and alternatives to opioid painkillers before the medication is prescribed to them. The panel also called for a new “national curriculum and standard of care” for opioid prescribers, and that pharmacists be trained to recognize and deny “inappropriate prescriptions.”

The commission urged the federal government to work with states to improve the toxicology data on overdose deaths by developing uniform forensic drug testing. Critics say the current data now being used by federal agencies is flawed or cherry-picked. 

“We do not have sufficiently accurate and systematic data from medical examiners around the country to determine overdose deaths, both in their cause and the actual number of deaths,” the report says.

No Limit on Opioid Supply for Acute Pain

The commission did not recommend that supply limits be placed on opioid prescriptions for short term pain, as many expected. Several states have already enacted 5 or 7-day limits on opioids for acute pain. The panel also did not endorse the development of marijuana-based medications, which many pain sufferers are now using as an alternative to opioids.

Most of the commission’s other recommendations deal with cracking down on drug traffickers and the illicit drug market, expanding the drug court system, and increasing access to addiction treatment.

Gov. Christie refuted criticism of President Trump for declaring the overdose crisis a public health emergency, instead of a national emergency. Only $57,000 in federal funding is currently set aside to deal with a public health emergency.

“The president did exactly what I asked him to. I wanted this to be a public health emergency because I wanted HHS (Department of Health and Human Services) to administer the funds, not FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency). No offense to FEMA. They’re busy with some other things and it’s not there area of expertise,” Christie said.

“Now it’s incumbent upon Congress to step up and put money in the public health emergency fund, so the president can utilize that. And that should happen without delay in the view of the commission.”

In addition to Christie, commission members include Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, Bertha Madras, PhD, a professor of psychobiology at Harvard Medical School, and Patrick Kennedy, a former Rhode Island congressman.

In its fifth and final hearing, the commission heard testimony from several people who lost loved ones to opioid addiction and overdose. The panel never asked for or received testimony from pain sufferers, patient advocates or pain management physicians.

Fentanyl Linked to Over Half of Opioid Overdoses

By Pat Anson, Editor

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that illicit fentanyl – not prescription pain medication -- was involved in over half of the recent opioid overdoses in ten states.

The report underscores the changing nature of the nation’s overdose crisis and how public health officials have been slow to respond to the growing role of fentanyl and other illegal opioids – focusing instead on limiting access to opioid medication.

CDC researchers say fentanyl or its chemical cousins (known as fentanyl analogs) were detected in 2,903 of 5,152 opioid overdoses (56.3%) during the last six months of 2016.

Their report on overdoses in ten states (Oklahoma, New Mexico, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Ohio, Maine, Missouri, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New Hampshire) is the first to use toxicological and death scene evidence to characterize opioid overdoses, a method that is far more accurate than other CDC reports that rely on death certificate codes.

source: Centers for disease control and prevention

source: Centers for disease control and prevention

Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Missouri reported the highest percentages of deaths involving fentanyl (60-90%), while New Mexico and Oklahoma had the lowest (15-25%). Fentanyl is a potent synthetic opioid that is legally prescribed to treat severe pain. The vast majority of the deaths, however, involve illicit fentanyl that has flooded the black market in recent years. 

“This analysis of opioid overdose deaths in 10 states participating in the ESOOS (Enhanced State Opioid Overdose Surveillance) program found that illicitly manufactured fentanyl is a key factor driving opioid overdose deaths and that fentanyl analogs are increasingly contributing to a complex illicit opioid market with significant public health implications,” the researchers reported.

“Illicitly manufactured fentanyl is now a major driver of opioid overdose deaths in multiple states, with a variety of fentanyl analogs increasingly involved, if not solely implicated, in these deaths. This finding raises concern that in the near future, fentanyl analog overdose deaths might mirror the rapidly rising trajectory of fentanyl overdose deaths that began in 2013 and become a major factor in opioid overdose deaths.”

The CDC recently expanded the ESOOS program to 32 states and the District of Columbia. Additional funding was also provided to improve toxicology testing for a wider range of fentanyl analogs such as carfentanil, which is estimated to be 10,000 times more potent than morphine.

The new CDC report did not detail how many of the overdose deaths involved prescription opioids. A recent report from Massachusetts  estimated that prescription opioids were involved in only about 15% of overdoses in that state, ranking well behind cocaine, benzodiazepines, heroin and fentanyl.

source: massachusetts department of public health

source: massachusetts department of public health

Although opioid prescribing has been in decline for years, public health efforts remain focused on limiting access to pain medication. As PNN has reported, the CDC recently launched a new advertising campaign that focuses exclusively on raising awareness about the risks of prescription opioids, while ignoring the role of fentanyl and heroin in the overdose crisis.

The CDC’s Rx Awareness campaign will initially run in four states -- including Massachusetts and Ohio, two of the states where fentanyl overdoses vastly outnumber those involving pain medication.

How the DEA Changed the Overdose Numbers

By Pat Anson, Editor

The Drug Enforcement Administration has released its annual report on the threat posed to the U.S. by drug trafficking and the abuse of illicit drugs.

The 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment (NDTA) has both good and bad news about the nation’s worsening overdose crisis. But like other federal agencies, the DEA has a disturbing tendency to massage statistics to make the role of opioid pain medication more significant than it actually is.

“The threat posed by controlled prescription drug (CPD) abuse is prevalent. Every year since 2001, CPDs, specifically opioid analgesics have been linked to the largest number of overdose deaths of any illicit drug class, outpacing those for cocaine and heroin combined,” the report declares.

That sure makes it sound like opioid pain medication is killing more people than ever before, doesn’t it? A closer look at the numbers and methodology used by the DEA suggests otherwise.

"Controlled prescription drugs" is a very broad category that includes not only opioid pain relievers, but anti-anxiety drugs (Valium, Xanax), stimulants (Adderall, Ritalin), and anabolic steroids. And there's plenty of evidence people are dying from those drugs as well.

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This is not the first time the DEA has lumped opioid pain relievers with other drugs. In the 2016 NDTA, the DEA combined opioids with anti-anxiety drugs, but not stimulants or steroids.

A year earlier, in the 2015 NDTA, prescription opioids were in a category all to themselves.

The effect of these changing and broadening definitions is significant. Every year the overdose crisis appears to be getting worse and worse. It certainly is for deaths linked to illicit drugs like heroin, cocaine and fentanyl, but not necessarily for prescription drugs and definitely not for opioid pain medication.

One has to wonder why these definitions keep changing and distorting the true nature of the overdose crisis. Don’t take my word for it. Look at how the overdose numbers for "Selected Illicit Drugs" in 2013 have grown over the years.

In the 2015 NDTA, the DEA reported that an “opioid analgesic” was involved in the deaths of 16,235 Americans in 2013.

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In the 2016 NDTA, the DEA reported that “prescription drugs” were involved in the deaths of 22,767 Americans in 2013.

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And in the 2017 NTDA, the DEA reported that “medications” were involved in the deaths of 24,536 Americans in 2013. The "medications" category includes not only controlled prescription drugs, but over-the-counter drugs as well.

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Simply by changing the way they counted overdoses, the DEA and other federal agencies raised the death toll for 2013 by over 8,300 people.  We’re only using 2013 as an example.  From one report to the next, overdoses grew for every other year as well.

This isn’t the first time the federal government has played around with the overdose numbers. As PNN reported, last December the CDC and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy released three different estimates of how many Americans died in 2015 from overdoses linked to prescription opioids.  

Within one week, the overdose numbers evolved from 17,536 deaths, down to 12,700, and then back up to 15,281 deaths. To use a football metaphor, that is known as moving the goalposts.

Pain Medication Abuse Declining

A closer reading of the 2017 NDTA shows that heroin, illicit fentanyl and other illegal drugs are now driving the overdose crisis, not opioid pain medication. Less than one percent of legally prescribed opioids are being diverted to the black market. 

A recent survey of law enforcement agencies, known as the National Drug Threat Survey, found that less than 10 percent of respondents nationwide believed controlled prescription drugs were the greatest drug threat in their jurisdiction -- down considerably from 2014 when over 21.5 percent reported the same

The abuse of prescription opioids is also declining. Fewer Americans are testing positive for hydrocodone, oxycodone and other painkillers in workplace drug tests. And the number of people seeking treatment for abusing pain medication has fallen significantly. From 2011 to 2014, admissions to publicly-funded treatment facilities for prescription opioid abuse fell by nearly a third. 

“This decline can in part be attributed to CPD (controlled prescription drugs) abusers switching to heroin or other illicit opioids. Some CPD abusers, when unable to obtain or afford CPDs, begin using heroin as a cheaper alternative offering similar opioid-like effects,” said the DEA.

“Expansion of the counterfeit pill market, to include pills containing fentanyl, threatens to circumvent efforts by law enforcement and public health officials to reduce the abuse of opioid medications; the arrival of large amounts of counterfeit prescription drugs containing fentanyl on the market replaces opioid medications taken off of the street.”

Curiously, the DEA report doesn’t even list kratom as a drug threat – even though the agency considers the herbal supplement a “drug of concern” and tried to ban it last year. 

“I think that all of us in the kratom community have a hard time reconciling the lack of a threat listing for kratom and yet still being considered a drug of concern,” said Dave Herman, chairman of the American Kratom Association, a pro-kratom consumer group.  “The science tells us that kratom has a low potential for either abuse or addiction and we hope to see that reflected in all DEA materials.”

Whether its kratom or pain medication, the DEA and other federal agencies have a responsibility to be consistent and to get their facts right.  Inflating the overdose numbers and blaming opioid medication may make for good headlines, but it diverts funding, resources and policymakers away from other drug problems that truly need more attention. We'll never get a handle on the overdose crisis if we keep moving the goalposts.

A recent editorial in the Journal of Pain Research took the CDC to task for doing just that.

"Transparency, freedom from bias, and accountability are, in principle, hallmarks of taxpayer-funded institutions. Unfortunately, it seems that at least one institution, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, continues to struggle with all three," wrote researchers Michael Schatman, PhD, and Stephen Ziegler, PhD.

"What began with a prescribing guideline created in secrecy has now evolved to the use of statistical data and public statements that fail to capture not only the complexity of the problem but also the distinction between licit and illicit opioids and their relationship to the alarming increase in unintentional overdose. This is unfortunately consistent with Mark Twain’s assertion that 'there are lies, there are damn lies, and then there are statistics.'"

What is Opioid Use Disorder?

By Rochelle Odell, Columnist

You’ve probably heard or seen the phrase “Opioid Use Disorder.”  It’s a broad term currently being used to describe not only opioid addiction, but patterns of behavior that might be a sign of addiction or could lead to it.

If that sounds like they’re putting the cart before the horse, it’s because they are.

In order to understand Opioid Use Disorder, one must understand the government's stance on opioids. The National Institute on Drug Abuse – which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) – lays it out in a recently revised statement on the opioid crisis:

“Every day, more than 90 Americans die after overdosing on opioids. The misuse of and addiction to opioids--including prescription pain relievers, heroin and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl--is a serious national crisis that affects public health as well as social and economic welfare."

Notice how they lump prescription pain relievers in with heroin and illicit fentanyl?  The more I research, the more I find this common thread of illogical thinking. The government consistently lumps pain medication in with illicit drugs.

Here’s another example from the NIH: 

“In 2015, more than 33,000 Americans died as a result of an opioid overdose, including prescription opioids, heroin, and illicitly manufactured fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid.

That same year, an estimated 2 million people in the United States suffered from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers, and 591,000 suffered from a heroin use disorder.”

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Substance use disorders “related” to pain relievers? Heroin use disorder? That got me wondering how many drug “disorders” there are.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), there are six major substance use disorders. Nearly 93,000,000 Americans have a substance use disorder of some kind:

1) Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD): About 17 million Americans have AUD. According to the CDC, alcohol causes 88,000 deaths a year. 

2) Tobacco Use Disorder: Nearly 67 million Americans use tobacco. According to the CDC, cigarette smoking causes more than 480,000 deaths a year.

3) Cannabis Use Disorder: Over 4 million Americans meet the criteria for a substance use disorder based on their marijuana use. No estimate is provided on the number of deaths caused by marijuana, if any.

4) Stimulant Use Disorder:  This covers a wide range of stimulant drugs that are sometimes used to treat obesity, attention deficit hyperactivity and depression. The most commonly abused stimulants are amphetamine, methamphetamine and cocaine. Nearly 2 million Americans have a stimulant use disorder of some kind.

5) Hallucinogen Use Disorder: This covers drugs such as LSD, peyote and other hallucinogens. About 246,000 Americans have a hallucinogen use disorder.

6) Opioid Use Disorder: Again, this covers both illicit opioids and prescription opioids. In 2014, an estimated 1.9 million Americans had an opioid use disorder related to prescription pain relievers and 586,000 had a heroin use disorder (notice the SAMSHA numbers are somewhat different from what the NIH tells us).

But what exactly is Opioid Use Disorder?  Does it mean 2.5 million Americans are addicted to opioids?

No.

The diagnostic codes used to classify mental health disorders were revised in 2013 to cover a whole range of psychiatric symptoms and treatments. Two disorders – “Opioid Dependence” and “Opioid Abuse” -- were combined into one to give us “Opioid Use Disorder.” Few recognized at the time the significance of that change, it's impact on pain patients, or how it would be used to inflate the number of Americans needing addiction treatment.

Elizabeth Hartley, PhD, does a good job explaining what Opioid Use Disorder is in an article for verywell.

Hartley wrote that Opioid Use Disorder can be applied to anyone who uses opioid drugs (legal or illegal) and has at least two of the following symptoms in a 12 month period:

  • Taking more opioids than intended
  • Wanting or trying to control opioid use without success
  • Spending a lot of time obtaining, taking or recovering from the effects of opioids
  • Craving opioids
  • Failing to carry out important roles at home, work or school because of opioid use
  • Continuing to use opioids despite relationship or social problems
  • Giving up or reducing other activities because of opioid use
  • Using opioids even when it is unsafe
  • Knowing that opioids are causing a physical or psychological problem, but using them  anyway
  • Tolerance for opioids.
  • Withdrawal symptoms when opioids are not taken.

The last two criteria will apply to almost every chronic pain patient on a prescription opioid regimen. So might some of the others. Most of us develop a tolerance for opioids, and if they are stopped or greatly reduced, we will experience withdrawal symptoms.  We simply cannot win for losing. 

If you learn your physician has diagnosed you with Opioid Use Disorder, be sure to ask them what criteria were used and why was it selected. Ask if you should see a doctor more knowledgeable about diagnostic codes and psychiatric disorders. 

Remember, knowledge is power. Take this information with you on your next visit to the doctor if you suspect you have been diagnosed with Opioid Use Disorder and your medications have been cut or reduced.

I hope what I have written helps you further understand exactly what we are facing and why. To be honest, it makes me want to wave the white flag, but I know that cannot happen.  We have to fight. Fight for proper care for a chronic disease or condition we didn't ask for or want. We can’t live the rest of our lives in severe, debilitating pain when effective treatment is available.  

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Rochelle Odell lives in California. She’s lived for nearly 25 years with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS/RSD).

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.