People grappling with pain often seek sanctuary within opioid pill bottles. Opioids are synthetic pain-management drugs, the most common of which are oxycodone, hydrocodone and fentanyl. Much like their natural opiate counterparts—morphine, opium, codeine and heroin, all of which are derived from poppy seeds—they bind to the opioid receptors in the brain and keep messages of pain from being delivered to the body, removing the sensation of pain for the user and replacing it with a sensation of comfort and bliss.
What sounds like a gift to chronic pain sufferers and post-operative patients is often a nightmarish reality: more than 52,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2015—more than gun- or auto-related deaths combined—and nearly two-thirds of those deaths were linked to opioids. In fact, drug overdose is the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. In its reporting on the escalation of the opioid crisis in America, the New York Times refers to the rapid spread of opioid usage and the resulting overdoses and deaths as “a modern plague.”
The Department of Health and Human Services has joined that chorus. According to a report they published last year, more than 240 million prescriptions were written for prescription opioids in 2014—that’s more than one bottle of pills for every American adult. Worse still is the realization that before they began using heroin, four out of five heroin users were misusing prescription opioids.
This is a bigger, more complicated and more harrowing issue than most realize. Regulations and strategic action by the public health and pharmaceutical industries—as well as the drug testing industry, within which DISA operates—must rise to the challenge of this crisis if it’s to be managed and eventually controlled.
We can look to precedent models set by the auto industry and its governing agencies, which implemented elevated emission standards and spurred the advent of commercially viable hybrid and electric cars. Or even the beef industry, which was forced to raise its quality standards to revitalize its stalled international export business following the outbreak of mad cow disease. It may seem crass to compare cars and cows with widespread human suffering, but the approach taken by these industries to set new, elevated standards to control the worst effects of using their product provides a useable corollary.
By setting elevated standards for drug testing, our industry can play a role in stemming the tide of opioid addiction by stopping drug addiction from infiltrating our companies and detracting from the safety of our workplaces. Public health leaders and forward-thinking pharma agencies can follow suit by setting similarly high standards for prescription issuance, rehabilitation practices and patient care so that no patient is left to battle an opioid addiction alone, and in time fewer people ultimately fall victim to addiction.