The United States is in the throes of an opioid crisis. More Americans are reliant on prescription opioid pain medication now than at any other time in history, creating unprecedented levels of drug abuse, addiction, and overdose.
In 2017, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declared a nationwide public health emergency, and developed a five-point Opioid Strategy to combat the epidemic. While the statistics about opioid abuse in the United States are grim, there is hope for the future of our country – and for those who are struggling with prescription drug addiction.
The origins of the opioid crisis
In the late 1990s, prescriptions for opioid pain medication began to rise significantly, as pharmaceutical companies assured physicians that their patients would not become dependent on them. Today we know the truth about how addictive opioids really are, but by the time this was discovered, millions of Americans across the country were already hooked. This led to a rise in illicit opioid use, including heroin and illegally made fentanyl, and as misuse of these drugs increased, so did the rate of overdose. Today, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 115 people die every day from overdosing on opioids.
The most commonly abused opioids
There are several different types of opioids contributing to this crisis, including:
Often prescribed after surgery or injury, prescription opioids are generally used to treat moderate-to-severe pain. Over 40% of all opioid overdoses in the U.S. involve prescription opioids, such as codeine, methadone, oxycodone (OxyContin), or hydrocodone (Vicodin).
A synthetic opioid pain reliever, fentanyl is usually only prescribed for severe pain, such as that experienced by cancer patients. While fentanyl overdoses are on the rise, most of the recent cases of overdose have been linked to illegally produced fentanyl that has been mixed with heroin or cocaine – with or without the user’s awareness.
In recent years, a drastic increase in heroin use has occurred across most age groups and income levels. One of the biggest risk factors for initiating heroin use is past prescription opioid abuse; according to the CDC, three-quarters of heroin users admit to having abused prescription drugs in the past.
The significance of the opioid crisis
The opioid epidemic has far-reaching consequences. Beyond the devastating effects on friends and family members of those who have overdosed or who continue to struggle with their addiction, it has also spawned a larger public health crisis. For example, there has been a sharp increase in neonatal abstinence syndrome, where babies are born addicted to drugs due to opioid abuse during pregnancy. Additionally, needle sharing among heroin abusers has contributed to the rise of HIV and hepatitis C. And the economic impact of the opioid crisis on the American people tops $78 billion dollars per year.
Mitigating the opioid crisis
Despite the enormity of the problem, there is hope for a better tomorrow. The five-point Opioid Strategy developed by the HHS is committed to providing resources to communities in order to:
Improve treatment, prevention, and recovery services for those struggling with opioid addiction
Increase the scope and quality of public health data in an effort to better understand the problem
Promote alternative, effective methods of pain management that exclude addictive opioids
Support the disbursement and availability of overdose-reversing drugs to save more lives
Develop new research on pain and addiction
Working together, we can raise awareness of the dangers and risks of prescription opioids, and offer help to those trapped in the cycle of drug addiction.
Alvarado Parkway Institute offers treatment for opioid addiction
If you’ve been personally affected by the nation’s opioid epidemic, Alvarado Parkway Institute can help. Our drug rehabilitation program empowers patients to lead independent, sober lives free of opioid dependency. With both inpatient and outpatient options, we’ll lead you through a safe, supervised detox program before designing a customized treatment plan to help you stay clean for the long haul.
For more information, call our 24-hour crisis line at (619) 667-6125 and speak to one of our compassionate and competent staff members.