Every day, more than 115 people in the United States die from an opioid overdose. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared prescription drug overdoses “an American Epidemic” in 2011, but the impact of the epidemic is still unfolding across the nation. Consider: opioid overdoses increased 30 percent from July 2016 through September 2017 in 52 areas in 45 states; across the mid-western United States, opioid overdoses increased 70 percent from July 2016 through September 2017. And about 80 percent of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids. All of these statistics are very much a painful nightmare for many American families.
Dr. Andrew Kolodny, Executive Director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, says that a large part of opioid epidemic in the United States is rooted in prescription medicine. And the lack of regulations on how these drugs are prescribed.
“The reason why we need a law making doctors tell patients that opioids are addictive is because without this law, the doctors aren’t going to do it,” Dr. Kolodny told Full Frame. “And in large part because the doctors themselves don’t really understand how addictive these drugs are.”
A number of states in the United States have responded to this epidemic by passing laws limiting the prescription of opioids. In 2016, Massachusetts was the first to set a seven-day supply limit. New Jersey followed in 2017 with legislation that limited opioid pain medication prescriptions to a five-day supply. But New Jersey did something different; their bill was the first in the United States to require prescribers, both doctors and dentists to inform their patients about the addictive qualities of opioid pain medication they are prescribing as well as to inform patients about possible alternative treatments. Since then, Rhode Island, Nevada, Maryland and Connecticut have followed with laws crafted on the New Jersey model. According to a recent report distributed by Blue Cross Blue Shield, one of the largest health insurance providers in the United States, opioid prescribing rates are finally declining in the United States, particularly in states with prescription limiting legislation.
All of these regulations came too late for Don and Bobbie Riebel. Their son, Colin, was only 15 years old when he became addicted to the opioid pain medications he was prescribed after three separate surgeries to treat sports injuries. After years of battling addiction, Colin was committed to overcoming his addiction. In November 2013, he successfully completed a residential rehab program in Florida, only to return home to New Jersey and overdose on heroin two days later. He was only days away from his 22nd birthday.
Bobbie and Don Riebel are now devoted to educating other families about the very real threat of opioid medications. They hope that Colin’s story will encourage parents to ask more questions, seek alternative pain treatment for their children and have the difficult conversations that may just prove to be a life-saving moment.