Understanding Addiction to Pain Pills: Do We Have the Information We Need?


According to a recently published article on understanding addiction in The Atlantic, there was a “fourfold rise in prescription-related overdose fatalities” from 1999 to 2011. Since that time, the public health and medical communities have aimed to curb the overprescribing of opioids – a measure that has contributed to a five percent reduction in overdose deaths (CDC, 2018). Yet, should regulation of prescription pain medicine continue to be the primary avenue in addressing the opioid epidemic?

In her article, author, Sally Satel, a psychiatrist, points out that if we look at data from the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, only 22 to 35 percent of “misusers” of pain medication reported that they received the medication from their doctor in the form of a prescription. Instead half report getting the drugs from a friend, stealing it, or buying it online.

So, there are still challenges to face in the opioid crisis. Do we have the data we need to understand the where, why, and how of opioid addiction? How well do we know how to treat pain? To prevent and treat addiction? The Atlantic article, as well as others exploring alternative approaches to managing pain, (see the ABC News article published August 15th – “Virtual Reality May Mean Real Pain Relief for Hospitalized Patients“) brings these questions to the surface as we aim to best address what has become a national public health challenge crossing ethnic, geographic, age, and sociodemographic lines.

There is no doubt that the overuse or misuse of prescription pain medicine can be a pathway to addiction, but it is only one piece of the puzzle. Addiction science and addiction medicine are growing fields. The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) has a collection of resources on advancing addiction science, including in the area of genetics and epigenetics (understanding environmental impacts on gene expression). Big data is opening doors to understanding why one person in a family develops an addiction over another. From there we hope to find more answers to help those in need.


About the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP)

The Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP), a non-profit organization founded in 2011 by the White House, represents the technology sector and commerce intermediaries including Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Oath, UPS, PayPal, MasterCard, Discover, American Express, and .Health.  CSIP’s mission is to promote industry best practices as it relates to illegal online pharmacies, and educating consumers about safe purchasing of prescription drugs.