The first line of defense is prevention

According to the International Narcotics Control Board, an expert group linked with the United Nations, Americans make up less than 5% of the global population but use about one-third of the global opioid supply.

12/21/20221 min read

A large portion of that consumption is erroneous: According to the United States Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 11.8 million Americans misuse opioids.

According to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, people often misuse medications to ease physical discomfort by taking more than their doctors recommend, taking someone else's medication, or obtaining narcotics on the black market. According to the poll, physical pain does not predict opioid addiction, and other prevalent causes for overuse include utilizing medicines to reduce tension, feel good, or help with unpleasant emotions.

"There's no substantial difference in physical pain levels between persons who misuse opioids and others who take them as prescribed," says Eric Garland, PhD, LCSW, director of the University of Utah's Center for Mindfulness and Integrative Health Intervention Development. "The mental distress of these patients is what sets them apart. That appears to be the source of the issue."

Existing mental health concerns are one of the largest predictors of opioid usage, which is why the scientific literature has labeled opioid use disorder a "disease of despair." People who have been through trauma, have been diagnosed with depression or anxiety, or have a personal or family history of substance abuse are at the greatest risk. According to Lynn R. Webster, MD's research, other factors include being younger, extensive cigarette use, and risk-taking behavior (Anesthesia & Analgesia, Vol. 125, No. 5, 2017).

These findings highlight the critical role psychologists can play in avoiding opioid dependence, not just by diagnosing and treating mental health issues that precede what some providers refer to as "chemical coping," but also by providing non-pharmacological pain-management options. A rising amount of evidence supports psychosocial therapies for managing pain that are less expensive, less dangerous, and often just as effective as opioids.

According to Howard Koh, MD, MPH, a professor at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health and former assistant secretary for health at the US Department of Health and Human Services, the opioid problem will remain unless we embrace a prevention approach. "Although the opioid problem has gotten a lot of attention in recent years, there's still a lot of focus on prevention," he says.

As a result, psychologists are attempting to promote and expand their responsibilities in the opioid crisis by inventing, testing, and implementing pain treatment strategies that prevent opioid reliance.