Opiate Addiction Endangers Our Youth

This week I would like to share with you an impassioned editorial about the dangers of opiate abuse among New Jersey's youth written by Elaine and Steve Pozycki. They are board members of the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey with Elaine serving as Co-Chair. Steve Pozcyki is the founder, chairman, and CEO of SJP Properties.

All the best,

Opiate Addiction Endangers Our Youth

While addiction to opiate-based prescription painkillers and their illegal street cousin, heroin has spread to all demographic and age groups, teenagers and young adults are particularly at risk.

The teenage years are a “critical window of vulnerability for substance abuse disorders,” according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, “because the brain is still developing and still malleable.”  The parts of the brain that are attracted to drug use mature before the parts of the brain that are responsible for making sound, non-impulsive decisions. People who begin their drug use in the teenage years are much more likely to become addicted and abuse drugs, including opiates, as adults.

Young adults, ages 18 to 25, are the age group with the highest rate of abuse of prescription drugs in the entire population. Heroin use in this age group more than doubled over the past ten years, documents a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Report (CDC).

 For youth and adults, the over-prescribing of prescription painkillers is the main source of today’s opiate addiction epidemic. Three out of four people who are addicted to heroin and other opiates started with a prescription pain reliever.  Opiate overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, and New Jersey. About 25,000 people die each year: 17,000 from overdoses of opiate-based prescription painkillers, such as Vicodin and Oxycodone and another 8,000 from heroin overdoses.

There has been a threefold increase in the number of prescriptions issued for opiate-based painkillers, over the past twenty years, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CDC. Health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions in 2012 and 1-in-4 teens report abusing a prescription drug. As Tom Frieden, M.D., Director of the CDC, said, “The bottom line is we're not seeing consistent, effective, appropriate prescribing of painkillers across the nation, and this is a problem because of the deaths that result.”

There is legislation currently being considered by the New Jersey State Legislature that squarely addresses this problem. The Patient Notification bill (S 2366), put forward by Senators Loretta Weinberg ( D-37) and Joe Vitale (D-19) provides parents of teenagers, young adults as well as all the rest of the patients with the critical information needed to make an informed decision about whether to take an opiate-based prescription pain-killer or use a non-addictive alternative by requiring that Doctors and other prescribers discuss the potential risks of dependency before writing a prescription.

Supplying these facts ensures medical consumers can make an informed decision. And in a FDU Public Mind Poll, 91% of New Jerseyans agree that this kind of conversation between Doctor and patient should be required.

Given that parental permission is required for school field trips to the zoo or to participate in high school sports, it is plain common sense that doctors should be required to inform parents and about the risks of opiate dependence.

Further, the FDA requires extensive disclosures of side effects-most of which only impact a small percentage of patients-- for any television advertisement about a prescription drug. Ensuring that Doctors inform parents and adult patients about an all too regular result of taking prescription opiates should be a required standard practice. Even for patients for whom the medication is the best option, this kind of conversation will arm them with the information they need to be appropriately on guard and vigilant about any signs of addiction.

For many patients, however, there are better and less risky alternatives. According to Dr. Don Teater, MD, Medical Advisor of the non-profit National Safety Council, there is evidence that a combination of ibuprofen and acetaminophen can be more effective than opiate-based painkillers. “In many cases (prescription opiates) they are less effective than NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). Research has shown use of opioids after injury or surgery prolongs recovery, and increases the chance of chronic opioid use, addiction and permanent disability. These findings have been supported in the medical literature, but many doctors don’t know about it,” said Teater.

The Patient Notification bill passed the State Senate with overwhelming bi-partisan support late last year, but so far has failed to receive a hearing or vote in the Assembly Health Committee, which is Chaired by Assemblyman Herb Conaway (D-7).  As the lame duck session nears, there will be another opportunity for the Assembly to consider this legislation. We strongly believe that Assemblyman Conaway should post this measure for a vote in Committee and that it deserves an up or down vote on the Assembly floor. We are confident if that vote occurs, it will pass overwhelmingly.

This common sense measure is of particular importance to protecting our youth and young adults from opiate addiction. We urge the Assembly to act—delay means more ruined lives and avoidable deaths, especially among our young.  

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