Harmful and nonmedical use of prescription opioids has increased precipitously in the United States and some other countries in recent years, but not everywhere around the world. Addressing this problem requires attention to scientific data and to objective and balanced consideration of factors driving the problems. Unfortunately, the situation has been blurred by some politicians, health professionals, and the media by their using inadequate concepts, misrepresenting and exaggerating facts, and demonizing pain patients. In this article, we analyze what has occurred and present what we believe to be a balanced view of the problems. We advocate comprehensive drug control policies implemented in a way to reduce harmful use and diversion problems balancing the public health benefits and risks of opioid medications. We make recommendations for responsible prescribing, including implementing the World Health Organization (WHO) policy guidelines and similar United Nations Office of Drug Control (UNODC), which we believe can contribute measurably to the prevention of diversion of prescription opioids while ensuring patient access to the most appropriate medicines. Measures to reduce the risks of nonmedical use of opioid medicines should be based to the greatest extent possible on accurate evaluation of the mechanisms leading to such use, including diversion activities.
Keywords: access; controlled substance; media; misuse; opioid; overdose; policy; public health; regulation.