It wasn’t too long ago that smoking cigarettes was very popular here in the United States. Smoking at the table, at work, in class, on airplanes and even the hospital was perfectly acceptable. However, as people have come to understand that cigarettes are extremely dangerous and cause severe health problems, smoking has declined at a rapid rate in the past few decades. This decline can be attributed with bans on smoking in public, public service announcements and lack of smoking depicted in movies, television shows and in print. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for all substances.
According to research, 37.8% of Americans are currently taking some sort of prescription painkiller. In contrast, 31% of Americans use cigarettes. These numbers are reflected in states like Tennessee. For every resident in Tennessee, there are 1.18 prescriptions for opiates written. This means that there are more prescriptions for painkillers than there are people in the state of Tennessee.
So, a possible way of reducing the number of people who consume opiates would be to look at what was helpful for reducing the number of people who smoked. One very successful action was placing an explicit surgeon general warning on all tobacco products. These warnings spoke right to the consumer about the dangers of cancer, risks to pregnant women and other complications to one’s health. In contrast, painkillers have a lot of tiny print that most consumers don’t read or pay much attention to. There is no explicit warning from the surgeon general about the how addictive the medication is, the increased risk of overdose and the potential for abuse.
“We require tobacco companies to put warning labels on tobacco products; you don’t really see that in opioid products. As long as the FDA is continuing to approve opioids, there still will be access to it. There will still be doctors writing prescriptions,” explained Dr. Richard Soper, chief at the Center for Behavioral Wellness.
Only time will tell if pharmaceutical companies will be required to warn patients in the same manner the tobacco industry was required to warn their customers. And while only a small number of people who take opiates actually become addicted, this could change if people are not properly warned. Meanwhile, more can be done to change prescribing practices among doctors for opioid narcotics and to more thoroughly educate their patients.