America’s problem with opioids

Prince’s untimely death opens the door to a national discussion about opioid addiction.

by Anant Naik

On April 21, Prince — one of the world’s most iconic singers — died. The cause of his death remains shrouded, but according to law enforcement officers, Prince had prescription opioid medication at his home. 
While it’s too early to draw conclusions about his death, the tragedy has spurred a vital discussion over opioid addiction. 
Addiction problems affect Minnesota acutely. In 1999, 60 Minnesotans died of opioid-related causes. By 2014, that number increased to 319 — a 500 percent rise. What’s more, during the same period more people died of prescription opioid overdoses than illegal heroin overdoses. 
Since the ’90s, doctors have prescribed opioids to treat chronic pain. During that time, pharmaceutical companies aggressively marketed prescription opioids without conducting proper research on the effects of addiction. 
Unfortunately, in the scientific community there is limited consensus on the efficacy of opioid drugs. Research articulates that the harm of addiction usually outweighs the benefit of alleviating pain. As such, the justification for prescribing opioids has been scrutinized. 
In order to reduce opioid-related deaths, government officials, clinicians and researchers must take action. First, Naloxone — a drug that counteracts the effects of opioid overdoses — should be made more readily available. CVS Pharmacy has already stated that some pharmacists will be able to distribute Naloxone without a prescription. This will ensure immediate relief to those who overdose.
Further, clinicians ought to be more proactive when prescribing opioids for pain management. Comprehensive action plans should be created for patients seeking pain management; physicians should survey the patient’s overall quality of life before prescribing opioids for pain reduction.
Finally, the research community must increase efforts to understand chronic pain. Research on alleviating addiction — as well as countermeasure therapies for overdose and withdrawal effects — will prove to be highly impactful. 
Prince’s death may have brought the issue of opioids to the forefront of a national discussion, but more medical attention is needed. We must fight against addiction together.
Anant Naik 
welcomes comments at