What is the Opioid Epidemic?

The opioid epidemic is the widespread use and abuse of opioid medications and the street-produced drug, heroin. In the 1990’s, pharmaceutical companies reassured doctors and pharmacists that opioids didn’t cause addiction. As a result, the prescription of opioid pain medications quadrupled between the years 1999 and 2010. Unfortunately, the addictive nature of these drugs was vastly underestimated.

Opioid Epidemic Results

According to American Action Forum, the staggering number of deaths from opioid overdose has continued to climb. It was reported in 2017 that the leading cause of death for people under age 50 in the United States was drug overdose. To put this in perspective, the number of deaths per day from drug overdose is 115. This number is continuing to increase, as there is no end in sight to the opioid epidemic. Even more concerning is that for every fatal opioid overdose, there are 30 non-fatal ones.

Prescriptions for opioids as pain medication quadrupled between 1999 and 2010

As the opioid epidemic began from the use and eventual misuse of prescription painkillers, addiction has affected people in all demographics. There are no significant differences based on race or income. Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, rich, poor, and middle class are all subject to use, abuse, and addiction.

“115 people per day die of drug overdose”

Obviously, with these numbers of fatal and non-fatal overdoses, the cost of the opioid epidemic is high. Not only is there a high cost due to overdose, there are other health concerns as well. Many people have taken to using opioids intravenously as the “high” hits faster and stronger through injection. A negative side effect of intravenous drug use is the spread of Hepatitis C and HIV. This spread is due to the sharing of needles. With the various health concerns associated with opioid addiction, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the opioid crisis is costing us $78.5 billion or more per year.

Addressing the Opioid Epidemic

Several individuals and professions have joined forces to curb the opioid epidemic. Currently, people fighting the opioid epidemic include:

  • Individuals such as former drug users and family members
  • Pharmaceutical companies who are making changes to medicine distribution
  • Doctors who are reducing the prescription rates
  • The US government, which is spreading awareness

Pharmaceutical companies, doctors, and pharmacists have made some attempts to reduce the widespread use and abuse of opioids. Once the addictive nature of the medications was discovered, doctors began to shorten the duration of medications given. More restrictions were also placed on the prescription of opioids to people who may not require them or those who appear to be abusing their prescriptions. Pharmacies also began to monitor the number of prescriptions that people were issued to curb “doctor shopping”. Doctor shopping is when a patient goes from one doctor to another doctor to get the same or similar prescriptions.

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One pharmaceutical company that attempted to curb the abuse of opioids was Endo Pharmaceutical. They attempted to modify the production of opioid medication by adding a protective coating to eliminate the ability to crush the medication for snorting. Unfortunately, while the drug’s ability to be crushed was eliminated, opioid users began to smoke the drug instead.

Treatment for Opioid Overdose

Fortunately, a solution for an opioid overdose victim has been identified and produced. If an overdose victim receives a shot of a drug called Naloxone in a timely manner, the overdose can be reversed. Many pharmacies across the United States are now stocking Naloxone for purchase by the public. This medication does not require a prescription to purchase. Additionally, Naloxone is carried by police and paramedics to administer to overdose victims when responding to emergency situations.

Long Term Opioid Treatment Options

Another important treatment option for an opioid addict is medically assisted treatment (MAT). With MAT, a person can use non-narcotic medications such as methadone and bupropion to block the opiate receptors and wean off opioids. When the opiate receptors have been blocked by a MAT medication, the person can no longer get “high” off the use of an opioid.

Long Term Opioid Treatment Options

In the past, MAT was frowned upon as just a substitute of one drug for another. However, the difficulty of overcoming an opioid addiction, the cost of the opioid epidemic, and the non-addictive properties of MAT medications have overridden most of these concerns. Still, MAT is most successful when combined with other forms of treatment. For example, by combining MAT with therapy, a person can ease the discomfort of withdrawal and simultaneously address the underlying issues that may have led to drug use such as anxiety or depression.

If you fear your loved one needs assistance with an opioid addiction

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