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A woman leaning on a table, struggling with the The Glorification of Opioid Abuse in Popular Culture.

The Glorification of Opioid Abuse in Popular Culture

By Dr. Zwade Marshall, M.D., M.B.A.

“Percocet…Molly, Percocet!” Atlanta native and trap music icon Future repeats this phrase in the chorus of his chart-topping single entitled “Mask Off”. Millions of hip hop fans sing along and dance to the rhythmic beat set to lyrics that highlight one of the nation’s most deadly public health crises. This also contributes to the glorification of opioid abuse in popular culture. Metropolitan Atlanta, as well as rural Georgia, has been plagued by the epidemic of narcotic overdoses stemming from Percocet tablets laced with other potent narcotics like Fentanyl. While Future, Lil Wayne, Jay Z, and many others rhyme about the recreational use of prescription drugs, there are numerous high profile celebrity deaths that drew much-needed attention to the scope of the opioid problem. Whitney Houston, Prince, Amy Winehouse, and Pimp C are just a few whose deaths were implicated by prescription drug overdose.

Does the prevalence of drug references in popular culture drive the demand for opioids for recreational use? Experts have found that the drug references in contemporary music do not contribute to the opioid epidemic in any statistically significant way. Rather, the evidence would suggest that the deceptive marketing efforts of the pharmaceutical industry and irresponsible prescribing physicians bear the majority of the responsibility for the current epidemic.

But while the glorification of opioid use in music is not responsible for increasing dependency, I would argue that it serves to normalize the behavior and makes it more difficult to combat this uniquely American public health crisis. In fact, the United States is the highest consumer of oxycodone and hydrocodone in the world, with the total annual American consumption of 27 million grams of hydrocodone dwarfing the combined consumption of Britain, France, Germany, and Italy. Moreover, the prescription drug crisis implicates another more universal epidemic – illicit drug abuse. According to the CDC, people prescribed and addicted to opioid painkillers are forty times more likely to become heroin addicts than those who do not use opioids.

As policymakers and public health officials enact legislation to curb this scourge and the glorification of opioid abuse in popular culture, we should take heed to words of conscious musician/poets like Chance The Rapper who shared his personal struggle with Xanax and uses his platform and microphone to educate the masses on the ills of chemical dependency.

Female doctor showing good test results to a male patient. Smiling medical professional sharing good test results with her patient, helping to lead the fight against the opioid crisis.

Leading the Fight Against the Opioid Crisis

A National Epidemic

Recent revelations all over the news are making clear the true risks and costs to public health of prescription opioid painkillers. A study conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that 11.4 million people misused prescription opioids in 2016.

In 2017, according to the CDC, more than 70,000 people died of drug overdoses. Approximately 48,000 (69%) of these deaths were due to opioids. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50, and they exceed the peak annual deaths due to car crashes, HIV, and gun violence.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse found that in 2017, “Georgia providers wrote 70.9 opioid prescriptions for every 100 persons, compared to the average U.S. rate of 58.7 prescriptions.” In that same year, 1,014 Georgians died of opioid overdoses.

Approximately 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain, according to the National Institutes of Health, which says, “Although opioids may not always be the best course of treatment for chronic pain, the number of prescriptions for opioid pain relievers has increased dramatically in recent years.”

A Drug of Desperation

For many people suffering from chronic pain, opioid use begins in desperation. Disabled, distressed, and depressed, they seek out anything that will bring them some relief. And for many years, doctors believed pharmaceutical company claims that opioids were relatively safe.

But as the dangers of opioids become tragically apparent, many patients feel caught in an impossible choice. Accept the serious risks of opioid use for the uncertain possibility of some relief. Or continue to suffer the full force of their chronic pain.

But this impossible choice is a false choice. There are alternatives that can bring real relief without the dire risks of opioids.

Real Hope for Healing

Real hope is how to fight a drug of desperation. And when pain is the root cause of that despair — as it so often is with opioids — that means replacing opioids with more effective treatments.

That’s the fight we’ve taken up at Alliance Spine and Pain Centers. To combat the opioid crisis by providing better alternatives for people suffering from chronic pain.

Using multidisciplinary interventional pain management, we help people better manage or treat their pain, without the terrible risks of opioids.

It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, we seek first to understand your pain: both its biology and your experience. Then we work together to create an integrated plan of care:

  • Medical interventions proven effective for your particular condition.
  • Integrated care approach to help you take back what pain has taken from you.
  • Non-opioid prescriptions to support your healing.

We track our clinical outcomes, so we know what actually works. And we’re leading our industry to better protocols through our stringent prescription guidelines and effective non-opioid solutions.

The opioid crisis isn’t just a tragedy of addiction and overdoses. It’s a crisis of people suffering in debilitating pain, despairing that they’ll ever find relief. Interventional pain management can offer real hope for healing that opioids never will.

To explore alternatives to opioids for your chronic pain, make an appointment today. We’re here for you and ready to help.

Treating Chronic Pain Without the Risk of Opioid Addiction

A recent USA TODAY article discusses a highly effective alternative to addictive opioids in the treatment of chronic pain. Click the link below for compelling news about the benefits of Spinal Cord Stimulators (SCA) Therapies, including patient stories about how SCS have their lives back.

At Alliance Spine and Pain Centers you will find a staff of professionals that are here to aid you in pain management. Treating chronic pian is not easy and we have alternatives here that may help you out with our regenerative medicine approach. This article that is in the USA Today has yet another way for people to avoid opioid addiction due to dealing with pain on a daily basis, and our goal is to offer the state of the art procedures and more to help cure the problem that some may have to live with for a lifetime.

Doctor holding patient's hand.

Pain Management During an Opioid Crisis

As many people in our community and across the nation know, we are in the midst of an opioid crisis. An estimated 59,000 Americans died from a drug overdose in 2016. It has been said that some patients initially prescribed opioids for legitimate painful conditions later turn to heroin when they can no longer afford or have access to prescription medications that they have become addicted to. The physicians at Alliance Spine and Pain Centers take this crisis very seriously and take all possible measures to protect you, your family and our community during this critical time in our nation.

How We Help Our Patients

One of our most important responsibilities as your pain physician is to insure that you or your family member do not become addicted to opioid medications. The initial and most important step that we take is to thoroughly evaluate you, your history, and your painful condition and determine if opioid medications are needed at all. Many painful conditions can be treated with interventional techniques such as epidural steroid injections, facet blocks, and spinal cord stimulation. There are well over 20 different types of interventions used to treat pain and our physicians are experienced and trained in all of them. Additionally, if one of our doctors determine that opioids are necessary you or your family member will be monitored very closely for any signs of substance abuse or addiction. We have a pain psychologist as a member of our practice to help us identify patients who may need treatment for addiction issues very early in the process, improving the likelihood successful treatment.

Tips That We Provide Our Patients

Additionally, as a patient there are several actions that you can take to insure safe treatment and reduce the likelihood of opioid misuse, addiction and diversion. Most importantly, always take your medications only as prescribed. Inform your physicians of all medications that you are taking to avoid potentially dangerous interactions. Never share your medications with anyone or take anyone else’s medication. Keep your medications locked in a lock box to avoid them being taken by anyone, especially children and teenagers. Develop a relationship with your pharmacist who can assist you in identifying potential drug interactions. Inform your doctor of any side effects you have from your pain medication such as drowsiness, dizziness, or shortness of breath as these may be early signs that a medication is not appropriate for you. Finally, be open to other forms of treatment for chronic pain such as physical therapy, non-opiate based medications, and injections such as those offered by the physicians at Alliance Spine and Pain which will reduce or eliminate your need for opiates and get you back to living life to the fullest!

Pickens Patterson III, MD