Highly addictive and loaded with side effects, prescription painkillers are doled out at alarming rates in this country. They are blamed for thousands of annual overdose deaths and cause many people to go from injured and in-pain, to drug-addicted in a matter of weeks. But despite the fact that there are effective, natural pain relievers, and a growing number of efforts at state-levels to control their supply, doctors continue to pass them out like candy. The phenomena is so alarming, that even the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Tom Frieden, is speaking out.
According to the L.A. Times, Frieden sharply criticized U.S. doctors recently for putting people at risk of addiction and overdose through their liberal and unrestrained painkiller-prescribing practices.
“These are dangerous medications, and they should be reserved for situations like severe cancer pain,” Frieden said. “In many other situations, the risks far outweigh the benefits. Prescribing an opiate may be condemning a patient to lifelong addiction and life-threatening complications.”
Over the past several years, prescription painkillers have grown stronger. Medications like OxyContin, fentanyl, and Vicodin don’t only numb pain from car accidents and other injuries, they create a narcotics-induced brain numbing effect too. They are blamed for countless emergency room visits and about half of all fatal overdoses in the country. Among women, prescription painkiller overdoses have climbed 400% since 1999.
In 2009, prescription drug overdoses passed up fatal car accidents as the leading cause of accidental death. Since then, states have created prescription drug databases and shuttered “pill mills” in an effort to gain control of the growing problem.
In Big Pharma fashion, however, prescription drug makers themselves are offering solutions, in the form of more prescription drugs. In head-scratching, ironic news, the FDA recently approved yet another drug to help treat prescription drug addiction.
Frieden says doctors should shoulder some of the blame, calling on them to be more conservative in prescribing the powerful painkillers. In addition to checking prescription drug databases to ensure patients aren’t “shopping” for pills to satisfy an addiction, Frieden recommends doctors look at less-addictive alternatives when patients are suffering from less-than-debilitating and chronic pain.
Unfortunately, in the world of herbal and alternative medicine, we don’t yet have the CDC on our side. Frieden wouldn’t recommend, for instance, that doctors suggest their patients try anti-inflammatory foods like ginger, turmeric, and fatty fish; or pain-relieving herbs like lemongrass, butterbur, or sage. While we definitely won’t hear from the CDC on taking homeopathic remedies like Arnica or self-medicating with cannabis, the fact that they admit Big Pharma drugs are killing people is a step towards transparency.