(CHICAGO) CBS–There’s good news in the fight against the opioid epidemic, but the medical community acknowledges there’s still a long road ahead.
A new report from the American Medical Association shows prescriptions for opioids are down, while the public is more informed than ever on the dangers of the drugs, which include painkillers, heroin, and fentanyl—all of which can prove lethal.
The first step in fighting opioid abuse, reports CBS 2’s Roseanne Tellez, is to reduce the number of prescriptions written by doctors.
Between 2013 and 2017, opioid prescriptions decreased by 55 million—more than 22 percent—nationwide.
Dr. Emily Miller is an OB-GYN at Northwestern University Medical Center. She says many opioid prescriptions for opioids are given to women giving birth via c-section—a common yet extremely painful procedure.
“The overwhelming majority of those women go home with an opioid prescription,” Miller said. “While it was well intentioned to give out all these medications, we were really contributing to this epidemic.”
And while fighting pain was the primary goal, minimizing opioid exposure is now considered equally-important.
“It’s such a delicate balance and the pendulum has really swung,” Miller said.
For those battling an opioid addiction, the American Medical Association says there’s a 42 percent increase in people fighting their battles with “Medication-Assisted Treatment.”
Known by medical professionals as MAT, the medication can only be prescribed by a doctor.
The drug works by weening patients off opioids slowly.
In 21-year-old Nick Villicana’s case, his journey breaking his addiction to opioids took five months with the help of MAT.
“MAT helped me with my withdrawl symptoms and also with my cravings,” Villicana said. “I’ve lost five friends to heroin overdose—and they never had that option.”
Villicana admits he could’ve become another statistic if he hadn’t turned to MAT.
A big step toward increasing access to MAT is to get insurance companies to pay for the treatment.
But an even higher priority is to work toward ending the stigma associated with opioid use.
While someone addicted to opioids is often seen by outsiders as a drug abuser, the reality is that opioid dependence is a medical illness that patients often cannot fight alone, Tellez reports.
“People have received the message, but it will take time for doctors to be able to prescribe the meds to help,” Tellez said.