By Kathryn Millán, MA, LPC/MHSP
The opioid crisis in America continues to be a serious public health issue. The good news is that doctors are finally beginning to slow opioid prescriptions, especially for people with minor injuries or outpatient surgeries. Opioid use in the news has spread awareness, and many people are writing and calling their city, state and national politicians to help enact change. Unfortunately, the opioid problem remains a critical issue, and opioid overdose lingers as a grave concern for many families.
A Quick Look at Opioid Statistics
An estimated 115 people die every day in the United States from opioid overdoses. The effects of these overdoses are far reaching and change the lives of orphaned children, mourning partners and extended families. Overdose deaths are happening in all income groups, across all cultural backgrounds and in all communities.1
There is a financial cost to opioid addiction as well. Opioid misuse creates an estimated $78.5 billion in costs to the U.S. justice system, healthcare infrastructure and business sectors. Hospitals and emergency rooms have initiated protocol around opioid overdoses because they are so common. The issue has become so common that first responders, such as police, firefighters and even mental health case workers are increasingly carrying Narcan, a drug that treats opioid overdose.1,2
How Did the Opioid Problem Get So Serious?
Opioid addiction has been around for centuries. Morphine was used to treat pain in Civil War survivors in the 1860s, and Bayer Co. introduced heroin as a commercially available “wonder drug” to treat everything from surgical pain to minor injuries around the same time. Heroin was even used as a cough suppressant when it first became available. By 1924, heroin became illegal after doctors realized how serious heroin addiction could be.
Doctors continued to believe that opioids were incredibly dangerous until the 1980s, when these medications became more popular once again. This time, major medical manufacturing companies were involved and active in the promotion of newer opioid-based “wonder drugs.” By the time OxyContin reached the market in 1996, doctors had all but forgotten how dangerous these drugs could be. Advertisements, pharmaceutical reps, and even Washington, D.C., lobbyists pushed these drugs as safe cures to the American people.
By the early 2000s, the opioid problem became very clear to the American people. Drug manufacturers responded by making pills more difficult to crush, split, or inject, but opioids continued to be sold. Today, doctors are taking initiative to cut back on prescription of these deadly drugs, but it is still up to individuals and families to remain highly aware both the dangers of opioids and treatment options for opioid misuse.
Why Would Anyone Turn to Abusing Opioids — Especially Heroin or Fentanyl?
With the knowledge we have now, why would anyone even use opioid drugs in the first place — especially illegal opioids like heroin? Why would anyone risk an overdose death with substances as powerful as Fentanyl? Answers vary, but many people who turn to illegal opioid use are already profoundly physically and mentally addicted to these drugs.
Many opioid addictions begin with a well-meaning doctor’s prescription. Opioids have notoriously been overprescribed for everything from ankle sprains to dental work. Anyone can be susceptible to the power of these mind-altering drugs.
Our brain actually produces natural opioids, and we have special receptors in our brains to absorb and process these natural painkillers. Opioid drugs hijack this natural system and cause the brain to slow production of natural painkilling hormones, which leads to a strong dependence on outside opioids. As the brain adjusts, stronger opioids are needed to maintain any semblance of normalcy.
These drugs are still on the market, and people still widely misuse them. Unfortunately, this misuse leads to way too many overdoses each day.
A Glimpse of the Opioid Problem
The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse cites the following statistics:
- Up to 29 percent of all people who are prescribed opioids to treat chronic pain eventually misuse their prescription.
- Somewhere between 8 to 12 percent of those prescriptions end in addiction, and 4 to 6 percent of those addicted people later use heroin.
- Most heroin users began with prescription opioids — an estimated 80 percent of opioid addictions begin with a doctor’s prescription.
- Between July 2016 and September 2017, parts of the midwestern United States experienced a 70 percent jump in opioid overdoses.1
Hope Lies in Reaching Out
If you or someone you care about has been hiding an opioid problem, now is the time to seek help. Overdoses often happen very suddenly, and treatment may save a life. New methods of pain treatment are being developed every year, and new treatments to combat opioid addiction and withdrawal make a big difference. Call our helpline any time to speak with one of our admissions coordinators about your treatment options. You owe it to yourself to learn more.
1 National Institute on Drug Abuse. Opioid Overdose Crisis. March, 2018.
2 National Institute on Drug Abuse. Opioid Overdose Reversal with Naloxone (Narcan, Evzio). April, 2018.
3 Moghe, S. Opioid history: From ‘wonder drug’ to abuse epidemic. CNN. October 14, 2016.