Opinion: Doctors, insurers must get ahead of Georgia’s opioid crisis

Updated Oct 25, 2017
  • By Richard L. Jackson

When a physician treats a patient, he or she operates under the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm to a man, woman or child.

But in today’s world where patients want an immediate cure for everything from the common cold to an aching back, patients are pushing physicians harder than ever for cures to what ails them.

And it is contributing to the greatest drug crisis we have ever seen in our country.

Last year, a record 64,070 Americans died from an opioid overdose, with 75 percent of those cases originating from prescription pain medication or street drugs to dull the pain.

That’s a loss of life exceeding two Sept. 11 attacks on our nation each month.

In Georgia the numbers are just as frightening. More than 1,000 Georgians died in 2015 from overdoses from drugs such as hydrocodone, codeine, fentanyl, Vicodin, morphine and street drugs such as heroin – a 200 percent increase since 2000, according to the Georgia Prevention Project.

This epidemic is not only taking lives but leaving a swath of destruction as it destroys families, leaves children without parents, creates unproductive workers, makes it difficult for business to find employees and costs taxpayers billions as we try to sober up an addicted population.

President Trump is expected to issue a proclamation this week declaring the opioid crisis a national emergency, freeing up federal funds toward potential treatment and other initiatives. Discussions are certain to turn toward revising public policy surrounding doctors who prescribe these pharmaceuticals and drug companies who manufacture them.

Many addictive behaviors start with a physician’s prescription, then escalate to an addict buying street drugs – often unknowingly purchasing deadly counterfeits.

To prevent patients from ever getting hooked, Georgia’s medical community needs to take the lead on solving this problem and revise policies to discourage patients from seeking these deadly narcotics as a solution to physical or emotional pain.

For example:

This summer, there were so many overdose victims accumulating at Atlanta-area morgues and the local crime lab that autopsies and funerals were delayed for days. Many of these victims left behind children placed in foster care and distraught family and friends, stunned how someone could surrender their life to a pill or even heroin.

It’s time to approach the opioid crisis with a public affairs campaign similar to the one against Big Tobacco and cigarettes of 20 years ago. We have to shift attitudes that these narcotics are rarely beneficial to a patient’s quality of life.