We still don’t know exactly what caused the recent death of the pop legend, Prince. It seems well established that he had a serious problem with opioid prescription drugs that started after he had a hip replacement in 2010. He was found dead in an elevator, but his music certainly reached a higher floor.
This man was brilliant and in the prime of his life. I am an unabashed fan. I started listening to his music after he put out the Controversy album and after that, I bought everything that I could find of his. I saw him in concert several times. He was a genius. As Mike Pesca of Slate’s podcast, The Gist described, it was as if Brian May and Freddie Mercury of Queen were the same person.
His legacy will live on in perpetuity. Yet it is a tragedy that the world will lose the creativity and viewpoint of such an amazing figure. Why did it happen? Opioid painkillers are wildly over-prescribed in the United States of America. While it contains less than 5% of the global population, it consumes 99% of its hydrocodone (a potent synthetic opioid) and 80% of all the opioids used in the world.
Let that sink in. The rest of the world has seven billion other people who manage to get by on 20% of all of the opiates that our 300+ million people need.
It’s no surprise then that we have seen massive growth in death rates from these prescriptions. Deaths from opioid overdose have climbed to 30,000 per year and are the leading cause of accidental death in seventeen states.
The lives of people with opioid dependence are often hellish as well. Being wealthy is often the worst-case scenario. When Rush Limbaugh was addicted to opioids, aside from causing near deafness in this radio personality, it caused him to spend enough money to buy almost two thousand pills a month during that four-month period in 2001: That is over sixty pills a day! A poor person could never access that much medication.
The biggest tragedy of all is that they don’t work. According to a widely cited paper in 2006, “… it is remarkable that opioid treatment of long-term/chronic non-cancer pain does not seem to fulfil (sic) any of the key outcome opioid treatment goals: pain relief, improved quality of life and improved functional capacity.”
Given these facts, doctors should stop prescribing so many of these pills. Full stop. Recent guidelines from the CDC are a step in the right direction. But we must change the mindset of both physicians and patients to the proper management of both acute and chronic pain syndromes. The human cost of this epidemic is profound. People live their whole lives around the prescription and worry constantly about going into withdrawal. The drug creates powerful cravings that can hardly be ignored, stronger than any other normal biological drive.
The good news is that modern medicine has some strong tools to help treat and control opioid dependence. We devote quite a lot of time and effort to combating this scourge at the Dr. Allen Wellness & Medical Center.
If you or someone you love is struggling with opiates (pain pills, painkiller patches or heroin) and the person who has the dependence wants help, we are here to help.