The United States currently faces an opioid epidemic of staggering proportions. According to a recent report from the National Security Council, Americans are more likely to die from an opioid overdose than a car crash. International medical graduates (IMGs) should be cognizant of the current opioid epidemic when coming to the United States. With knowledge of how to avoid fueling the epidemic, IMGs can help ensure patients do not misuse drugs and are properly cared for.
The U.S. opioid epidemic began in the 1990s. Pharmaceutical companies increased their marketing and lobbying efforts, prompting physicians to prescribe more opioid medications. In the first wave of the opioid crisis, many people, including patients and those who bought, stole, or borrowed painkillers from patients, misused the drug and became addicted.
The second wave of the U.S. epidemic began in the 2000s. Drug dealers took advantage of drug users who used opioids but wanted a cheaper high or had lost access to their painkillers. As a result, heroin flooded the illicit market and led to a second wave of the opioid crisis.
Now, the United States is in its third wave of the opioid epidemic. Fentanyl has flooded drug markets and has become known as a cheaper, potent, and more deadly alternative to heroin.
Public health and drug policy experts support three possible solutions to eradicating the opioid problem in the United States. First, they suggest expanding access to treatment programs. According to a 2016 surgeon general report, addiction treatment remains inaccessible for the majority of people who need it. Within these treatment programs, experts suggest increasing access to medications like methadone, which is considered one of the best ways to reduce mortality with opioid addiction. Experts also call upon harm reduction principles such as needle exchange programs and distribution of the antidote naloxone to help reduce mortality.
Second, experts advocate for reducing the number of excess painkiller prescriptions. In doing so, there is less opportunity for patients to misuse the drug. Patients who still need access to the drug will be able to receive it. IMGs can have the most impact in this realm. By being aware of the number of opioid prescriptions they write, IMGs can ensure that patients are receiving and using medications correctly.
Finally, experts call on an increase in federal resources to combat this epidemic. Experts estimate that tens of billions of dollars are needed to confront this epidemic quickly and effectively. However, Congress has only allocated a small amount of funding over the past few years. With increased funding, experts hope that addiction treatment programs can expand access and effectivity.
IMGs coming to the United States occupy an important role in eradicating the opioid epidemic. With heightened awareness of the struggles of U.S. physicians, IMGs can better contribute to the healthcare system by taking the right steps towards fighting the opioid epidemic.
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