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Are Opioids the Best Way to Treat Chronic Pain?

Frankie Leon
Flickr Creative Commons

Opioid overuse is America’s “silent epidemic,” affecting far too many of the roughly eight million people on opioid painkillers.

Dr. Thomas Frieden, Director of the CDC says overprescribing is to blame.  "Every single day, 46 Americans die from an overdose of prescription opioid painkillers like Vicodin, Oxycontin or Methadone," he said. "These drugs are commonly prescribed in every community, and a surge in prescriptions has been the main force of this epidemic."

Yet the National Institutes of Health says that opioids are often the first treatment doctors choose to relieve a the discomfort of the 100 million Americans who suffer from chronic pain.  In 2012, doctors wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioids, a big jump from the 79 million prescriptions given in 1991. 

More people are in pain than ever before and doctors desperate to help are responding with more prescriptions, even though there's little evidence that long-term use of opioids improves the lives of people living with chronic pain. But most of us are not aware of other options, including the doctors who prescribe.


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John Dankosky and Chion Wolf contributed to this show, which originally aired on August 24, 2015.

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