Surgeon General Warns Doctors About Opioid Epidemic

Vivek Murthy, M.D., Surgeon General of the U.S.

Vivek Murthy, M.D., Surgeon General of the U.S.

For the first time in history, the Surgeon General of the United States has sent a letter to all practicing physicians in the country warning them about an opioid epidemic that is killing thousands of Americans every year and pleading for their help to turn the situation around.

The Daily Mail is reporting on the letter sent by Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy to 2.3 million prescribing clinicians in the U.S. about the alarming increase in the number of deadly overdoses of prescription painkillers such as Oxycontin and Vicodin.

“I am asking for your help to solve an urgent health crisis facing America: the opioid epidemic,” the letter begins, then explains how we arrived at this crisis along “a path paved with good intentions.”

“Nearly two decades ago, we were encouraged to be more aggressive about treating pain, often without enough training and support to do so safely. This coincided with heavy marketing of opioids to doctors. Many of us were even taught – incorrectly – that opioids are not addictive when prescribed for legitimate pain.”

oxycotinThe results have been devastating. Since 1999, opioid overdose deaths have quadrupled and opioid prescriptions have increased markedly – almost enough for every adult in America to have a bottle of pills, the letter states. Yet the amount of pain reported by Americans has not changed. Now, nearly 2 million people in America have a prescription opioid use disorder, contributing to increased heroin use and the spread of HIV and hepatitis C.

Sadly, from 1999 to 2014, more than 165,000 people in the United States died from overdoses related to opioid pain medications

Solving the problem won’t be easy. “But, as clinicians, we have the unique power to help end this epidemic,” Murthy writes.

vicodinHe is asking clinicians to pledge to take three steps to help curb the epidemic: first, to educate themselves on how to treat pain safely and effectively; second, to screen patients for opioid use disorder and provide or connect them with evidence-based treatment; third, talk about and treat addiction as a chronic illness, not as a moral failing.

In an interview with CBS, Murthy said he was inspired to write the letter after touring the country and learning that despite widespread media attention to the opioid overdose epidemic, many doctors still don’t realize how dangerous the drugs could be.

But he also found many who are eager to help combat the problem. ‘ . . .[W]hen I talk to clinicians, as I have as I’ve traveled the country…. I found clinicians who are eager to help and we want them to be a part of the solution,” he said. A special mention was made to alternatives that are available on the market today, it would seem that we collectively have a stigma when it comes to more natural ways of dealing with pain. Sites like are readily available for people to take advantage of, however most will trust the doctors in the mega hospitals more. Maybe this has to do with the fact that we think more expensive means more qualified. However, there is no shortage of people that want to do the right thing and that want to help their communities.

And he’s confident they will do so. “I think they will because clinicians, doctors, nurses, dentists all came to their profession almost exclusively with the sense of idealism, with the same sense of wanting to improve the lives of other people and reduce suffering,” Murthy said.

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