Americans Use More Prescription Narcotics Than Any Other Country – By Far
In the last few years, the number of opioid prescriptions has decreased, after more than ten years of increasing domination. This trend has completed an 180-degree turn in response to public outcry over the dramatic increases in opioid addiction and overdose deaths.
While decreasing the number of opioid prescription will ultimately reduce the number of patients who become addicted, too many restrictions could prevent people who legitimately need them from receiving them. So how can we determine when restrictions have gone too far?
Data from the United Nations can offer a reasonable standard to judge how much opioid use might be appropriate for any given country. What this information revealed was astonishing – U.S. opioid consumption eclipses all other countries, and is therefore #1 with a bullet regarding the use of prescription narcotics.
Here are the facts: America receives about six times as many opioid prescriptions per capita as Portugal and France, despite the fact that the heath care in these countries is more accessible.
The U.N. Report stated that hydrocodone boasts the largest difference – that is, Americans use more 99% of the world’s supply.
One might assume that Americans use more prescription narcotics due to its aging population, and yet the U.S. ranks in at #42 in the world for its proportion of persons over age 65. Indeed, Australia and Italy, countries with a much higher proportion of older adults, use just a fraction of the opioids than Americans do.
So why is opioid consumption so high in the U.S.? Experts believe it’s a combination of culture, economics, and politics. For example, the U.S. is unique among the developed world in its lack of constraints against aggressive marketing put forth by pharmaceutical companies.
Therefore, our profit-driven nation has allowed these companies to become insanely successful at marketing prescription painkillers, even to the point of misleading both physicians and the public. Turn this profit into political clout, and you have lobbyists in Washington pressuring politicians to look the other way when people suspect sketchy or unethical marketing tactics are afoot.
Culture also plays a role. Persons in the U.S., relative to other countries, believe that our lives can be perfected, pain can be avoided, and we have an innate right to such privileges. In other words, we don’t want to accept discomfort. And many of us are afforded a lifestyle in which we don’t suffer as much as other nations, and thus we expect to continually uphold said standard of living.
None of this is meant to imply that there aren’t Americans who benefit from opioids. The problem is, there is a difference between legitimate need due to cancer or end-of-life versus using opioids as a first-line defense against chronic pain.
There are other methods of managing pain, and research has shown that many of these methods (i.e. yoga, chiropractic services, and anti-inflammatory medications) can be as effective as opioids in many situations.
This is not meant to be a war on those in pain – in fact, researchers are working hard to find alternatives to opioids that work just as well (if not better) without the risk of addiction and overdose.
In fact, long-term use of opioids commonly causes a condition known as hyperalgesia – or an increased sensitivity to pain. So, ironically, the drugs meant to treat pain are actually causing more pain in the long run.
The very fact that U.S. opioid use dwarfs that of most other developed countries that have even more senior citizens should tell you that it’s not about our level of pain. Moreover, money buys power, and there is much to be made on the average American’s expectations of comfort.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology