Opioids remain one of the major mortality causes that need to be addressed on all levels. While illegal drugs are prevalent among different demographics, the US has the highest number of prescription opioid users (Cicero & Ellis, 2017). It is certain that such drugs are beneficial in case patients deal with severe pain. However, it is crucial to consider all the individuals who misuse their prescriptions for various reasons. Prescription opioids have always been controversial due to the increasing number of people who use them long-term. The issue became even more critical in the last decade since there has been an increase, which is exemplified by the 2,5% more users in 2014 compared to 2000 (Mojtabai, 2017). Due to the significance of the problem and the risks that correlate with the trend, it is vital to address some of the possible solutions that may lead to a decrease in cases of misuse or overuse of such addictive drugs. One way in which the circumstances can be ameliorated is through legal repercussions. Thus, penalties for possession of prescription opioids, while possibly leading to the use of illegal substances, should not be lessened to combat addiction, monitor pharmacists, and prevent overuse and resistance.
Benefits of Maintaining Harsher Penalties
Opioid use, while being associated with illegal activities, is often the result of an injury or medical condition. However, multiple individuals end up either misusing or overusing their prescription, which suggests that drug addiction does not discriminate based on the legality of the drug possession. Thus, law enforcement confronts the illegal possession of prescription opioids as a crime that requires punishment for the perpetrator. However, there are opinions that suggest these punishments have to be less harsh. Due to the increased risk that correlates with this particular issue, lessening the repercussions may lead to an even bigger opioid epidemic. This is why maintaining relatively harsh outcomes for individuals going against the law may have several benefits. Among those are the mitigation of the addiction, monitoring of the pharmacists, and prevention of use and overall resistance.
A major downside of the extensive use of prescribed opioids is the increased risk of individuals becoming susceptible to addiction. According to researchers who analyzed the demographic prescribed with such medication, 12% were misusing, and almost 60% of this group were abusing their own prescriptions (Griesler et al., 2019). It is certain that there is a problem correlating with people either abusing or mishandling their drugs. Thus, it is crucial to take into consideration opioids as addicting substances that require high regulation and, in case of misuse, legal repercussions. Moreover, research shows that in 2014, almost 80% of all opioid users have been medicating themselves long-term (Mojtabai, 2017). Such a high number also suggests that addiction is a prevalent outcome that has to be mitigated. Thus, penalizing those who illegally possess prescription opioids is likely to discourage some individuals from abusing these substances.
Since the topic illustrated in the paper suggests an issue related to prescribed drugs, it is inevitable that medical professionals are involved in the process. First and foremost, doctors have to assess the condition of the patient before prescribing possible addictive substances. However, a major role in patients receiving the drugs is perpetrated by the pharmacists who are active participants in such processes. Researchers point out that pharmacists have a critical chance of combating or mitigating some of the effects of the opioid epidemic (Thakur et al., 2019). Since so many patients end up misusing and abusing their prescriptions, as referred to before, there must be a consideration of medical professionals as a part of the problem. However, if no legal repercussions are put in place, pharmacists will be less likely to minimize drug misuse. Moreover, researchers highlight that there is a possibility of decreasing the rate of inappropriate prescriptions through these medical professionals (Compton et al., 2019). Thus, by ensuring the illegal possession of prescription opioids is minimized through adequate legal action, the consequences include monitoring the healthcare staff that is actively involved.
Implementing Prevention Measures
Combating an issue is more complex than preventing the same problem. Thus, preventing illegal possession and use of prescription opioids has to be essential in reducing the rate of addictions and other negative outcomes. Mojtabai (2017) refers to the extensive use of prescribed opioids as strongly linked with health issues and a transition to illegal substances such as heroin. Thus, it is clear that preventing such results can be more beneficial rather than confronting the already established outcomes. The question is whether maintaining relatively harsh penalties may adequately lead to prevention. One example is handling unused medication in an appropriate manner. Researchers highlight that more than 60% of patients prescribed opioids after surgery have unused medication as a result of their recovery (Bicket et al., 2017). Thus, the same individuals may be misusing the drugs or giving them to someone else. However, with adequate penalties in place, there is a chance that these outcomes will be prevented, and the drugs will either be handed back to the healthcare providers for disposal or be personally disposed of based on all required guidelines. Thus, punishing such offenses may prevent the unauthorized use or abuse of prescription opioids.
While there is evidence that supports maintaining relatively harsh penalties due to the severity of the issue, one may argue that there is a negative outcome correlating with the proposed strategy. Researchers refer to the doctors’ apprehension of prescribing such drugs, which patients view as a lack of empathy for their pain. However, the same study refers to individuals fearing long-term outcomes linked to opioid use (McDonnell & Harmon, 2020). The argument that penalties stop doctors from prescribing much-needed medication is redundant since doctors will only change their minds if such prescriptions are not entirely necessary. Thus, patients with severe pain who require such measures will not meet resistance due to the lack of risk in which these individuals will either abuse or misuse a medication that is necessary for their well-being.
Another possible counterargument is that penalties will lead to a decrease in legal prescriptions and an increase in the illegal use of such drugs as heroin. However, researchers point out that heroin use is linked to easy access to prescription opioids rather than their limitation (Manchikanti et al., 2018). Thus, having legal regulation regarding prescription may help mitigate the heroin epidemic that often occurs as a result of addiction to substances recommended and supplied by doctors and pharmacists.
Based on existing data and evidence, it is inevitable that there is an opioid epidemic that also involves the extensive use of prescription medicine. Thus, one way to address the issue is to maintain the legal limitations to monitor pharmacists, reduce addiction, and prevent adverse outcomes. Imposing legal repercussions is essential for minimizing the misuse and abuse of such substances that can be highly addictive if a specific protocol is not followed by patients, medical professionals, and law enforcement. It is especially important for the future health outcomes of the general population that may be compromised by tolerance towards drug abuse.
Bicket, M. C., Long, J. J., Pronovost, P. J., Alexander, G. C., & Wu, C. L. (2017). Prescription opioid analgesics commonly unused after surgery. JAMA Surgery, 152(11), 1066. Web.
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