Opioid prescriptions dropping nationally, is it still an epidemic and what started it?

RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA TV) - It has caused thousands of deaths annually.... the opioid epidemic. But that may be changing.

As narcotic prescriptions are dropping nationally, the illicit substances trend is going up. (KEVN)

Doctor Tim Kelly is a dentist and the owner of Rushmore Dental.

"This whole epidemic thing is over, now we just have to figure out how to treat these chronic pain patients to make their lives better," said Kelly.

Doctor Stephen Tamang specializes in Family Medicine at Regional Health. He is certified to prescribe Suboxone, the most common drug used in medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction.

"But as you see the illicit substances trend up. If you look at the CDC data, you can see the use of heroin for example is marching up very aggressively," said Tamang.

Pain is considered the fifth vital sign and is something to be addressed with every patient.

"Pain became a big issue, the FDA approved medication for pain was an opioid.. so that was a key piece that drove it," said Tamang.

But how did pain management play a role in the opioid epidemic?

"It came about because the medical community was trying to control pain and the data at the time didn't seem to indicate that these drugs had an addictive potential, and we know that's rubbish now and that they're terribly addicting drugs...but back then it really wasn't seen like that," said Tamang.

Opioid addiction is still a problem, but with prescriptions regulated... the epidemic has subsided.

"5 years ago we were aware that there was a problem, 3 years ago as a state we started responding to the problem. Now the problem is we can't blame these people for the problem we created," said Kelly.

Tamang also said with the number of opioid prescriptions dropping nationally at a steep rate, it's causing problems for people that do need opioids for chronic pain management.