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Article Summary

The Opioid Crisis

The opioid crisis is widely considered to be the worst epidemic involving addictive substances in American history. Today, the this class of drugs is responsible for killing over 64,000 Americans on an annual basis - and it has caused the national life expectancy to fall for more than 2 years.

Understanding The Opioid Crisis In The United States

From the late 1990s, several pharmaceutical companies assured medics that their patients would not develop an addiction to opioid painkillers. As a direct result, healthcare providers started prescribing these medications at greater rates.

The increase in the number of prescriptions for opioid medications later led to the widespread abuse of both non-prescription and prescription opioids. This was before it started becoming clear just how highly addictive these medications could be.

By 2017, the HHS declared that opioids were a public health emergency. It also announced a new strategy to deal with the crisis. Today, the devastating consequences of this epidemic covers an increase in the abuse of opioids and related overdoses. It also encompasses a rising incidence in the number of newly born babies experiencing intense withdrawal syndrome as a result of women using abusing the drugs during pregnancy.

The epidemic has also been linked to a number of drug overdoses. For instance, opioids accounted for over 42000 deaths as a result of overdoses in 2016 - a number that was higher than any other previous year. It was also estimated that 40% of all opioid overdose deaths were linked to prescription opioids.

Opioid Abuse

The NSDUH (or the National Survey on Drug Use and Health) has released new data to inform policy makers on how to deal with the substance abuse treatment and prevention needs of their communities.

But why do people abuse opioids? According to recent statistics, the abuse of prescription medications is only second to marijuana abuse. Although this type of substance abuse is so common in the US, most people (over 87.2%) who take these drugs do not end up misusing them.

However, it is important to understand the reasons for and prevalence of prescription drug abuse, as well as the major implications they have on public health. Through this information, policymakers can work on assessments of preventing and treatment substance abuse in their communities.

According to the NSDUH, respondents provided information about how they used and abuse prescription painkillers like opioids such as morphine and hydrocodone). The study showed that more than 91.8 million American adults aged above 18 had used these drugs in the past year (2015) - a number that represented over 37.8% of the entire American adult population.

Among the reasons given for the abuse of these drugs included:

  • To relieve physical or psychological pain
  • To relax
  • To relieve tension
  • To decrease or increase the pleasurable effects of other substances
  • To help them sleep,
  • To help with their emotions and feelings
  • To feel good
  • To get high or become intoxicated
  • To experiment and see how it felt to take the drug
  • Because they had already developed dependence on the drug
  • For some other reason

Research also shows that there is a common misconception in the country that misusing prescription drugs in the opioid class does not come with any risk. For many people, this is because these drugs are heavily regulated and that they come with legal medical uses.

However, the DEA (or the Drug Enforcement Agency) still deems these opioid medications to come with a high potential for abuse and addiction. As a direct result, those who abuse the drugs do so as a result of a doctor's prescription - only to end up misusing their prescriptions.

Previous research on the opioid crisis also showed that most people reported that they got their drugs from relatives or friends, or from healthcare providers (as a result of a legal prescription).

This goes to show that medical practitioners and physicians might consider talking to their clients and patients about the potential consequences arising from abusing these drugs. They should also discourage them from sharing their prescriptions as well as ensuring that others cannot access their medications. Patients should also be advised to dispose of any remaining dosage units to ensure that others cannot use them.

Fast Facts On The Opioid Crisis

Consider the following facts about the most commonly abused drugs forming the opioid crisis:

1. Oxycodone

Oxycodone is a potent narcotic painkiller. It is commonly prescribed for the treatment of moderate to high levels of pain. In many cases, patients receive it in the form of an extended release formula that they can use for a long period. However, doctors advice against breaking, crushing, chewing, and dissolving these forms of the drug - particularly because the rush of the opioid medication into the system could potentially lead to a variety of serious health complications - including but not limited to overdose, organ failure, and death.

Even though it is highly addictive, however, oxycodone is generally not considered to be as highly abused as another opioid, hydrocodone. Some of the trade names it is sold under include Tylox, Percodan, Percocet, and OxyContin.

2. Morphine

Another drug that has been contributing to the opioid crisis, morphine is a powerful opioid typically prescribed for intravenous administration in cases of severe pain. It is also available in pill form - usually as extended release capsules and tablets. Since it is so potent, doctors only prescribe it for the more severe and chronic pain that has not responded to other pain medications.

Morphine is like any other opioid in the sense that mixing it with other intoxicating and mind altering substances - particularly with street drugs and alcohol - can increase the risk of suffering breathing problems and other life-threatening effects.

3. Meperidine

Another narcotic analgesic (or painkiller), meperidine is similar in chemical composition to morphine. Doctors typically use it to put their patients to sleep right before they perform an invasive procedure such as an operation. It is also prescribed for pain relief following childbirth.

The most common meperidine drug is Demerol. This brand name medication comes in both liquid and tablet forms. Doctor prescribe it for use with and without food, and you should only take it every 3 to 4 hours - or as needed - for pain relief.

Meperidine is like any of the other drugs causing the opioid crisis in the sense that it can cause severe drowsiness. This means that you should never attempt to operate heavy machinery or drive a car after you have taken it.

4. Hydromorphone

Another potent prescription analgesic, hydromorphone comes in a variety of brand name formulations - the most common of which are Exalgo and Dilaudid. Liquid hydromorphone is commonly mistaken for morphine. Additionally, it comes with the risk of medication errors due to the similarity of these two opioids as well as their names.

5. Methadone

Although methadone is commonly prescribed for the relief of severe and chronic pain, it is also used in managing some of the withdrawal symptoms that you are likely to experience while undergoing detoxification from other opioid drugs.

However, this drug also comes with most of the same effects as any other opioid - including but not limited to difficulty staying asleep or falling asleep, vision problems, mood changes, difficulty urinating, sweating, stomach pain, vomiting, nausea, headaches, and weakness.

6. Buprenorphine

Another drug that has been contributing to the opioid crisis, buprenorphine is used variously as a safer alternative to methadone. Therefore, those who are addicted to heroin might receive this medication to manage their withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings.

Buprenorphine, however, is somewhat different from the other opioids. This is particularly because it acts as a partial opioid agonist, meaning that it will produce less physical dependence and euphoria if you take it in the prescribed doses. As a direct result, it comes with a lower risk of abuse and addiction. Additionally, doctors contend that its withdrawal profile is relatively mild.

Still, some users abuse buprenorphine by crushing the tablets and snorting the resulting powder or dissolving it before inject it directly into the bloodstream. However, these forms of abuse come with many risks - including unconsciousness, confusion, dizziness, and suppressed breathing, as well as death in the most severe of cases.

The brand name for this medication is Subutex and it should only be taken as a sublingual drug - meaning that you should only place it under the tongue before waiting for it to dissolve.

In some instances, buprenorphine is mixed with naloxone to create the brand name drug Suboxone. This opioid antagonist medication acts by blocking the brain's opiate receptors. As a direct result, the drug cannot create the high that you might be craving.

Opioid medications, on the other hand, attach to the parts of the brain that are responsible for controlling emotions and pain. When they do this, they effective increase the levels of dopamine - a feel good hormone - inside the reward areas of the brain thereby creating sensations of intense euphoria and happiness.

Over time, your brain might become so used to these pleasurable feelings that you will find yourself taking more of these medications to produce similar effects of wellbeing and pain relief. Eventually, this continued abuse might lead to tolerance, dependence, and - finally - addiction.

7. Oxymorphone Hydrochloride

Often sold under the brand name Opana ER, Oxymorphone hydrochloride was at the core of the 2015 HIV outbreak in the state of Indiana. This is because some of the people who were addicted to the drug started taking it intravenously - with some sharing their needless. As a direct result, HIV started spreading fast in the state due to such intravenous drug use.

To counter the problem, the FDA (or the Food and Drug Administration) requested Endo Pharmaceuticals (the company that produces and markets Opana ER) to pull the medication from the marketplace.

This was the first time in the history of the United States that the FDA has ever asked for an opioid drug to be pulled from the market. However, it was understandable on account of the opioid crisis and the public health consequences that were attached to Opana ER.

8. Codeine

Codeine is among the weakest of all opioids. Doctors typically prescribe it after other painkillers like ibuprofen and acetaminophen have failed to work. The drug is effective at decreasing the activity of the parts of the brain that control coughing. As a direct result, manufacturers often mix it with other liquids to create cough syrups to treat flu and colds. However, codeine is also used to provide pain relief after the removal of adenoids and tonsils in children.

Recently, the FDA conducted an investigation into the use and abuse of this drug. After this investigation, it restricted the use of tramadol and codeine in children below the age of 12. The same body has also recommended against the use of these medications for children between the ages of 12 and 18. It has additionally warned breastfeeding women from taking these drugs because they carry adverse risks and effects for breastfeeding infants.

9. Heroin

Although heroin is not available as a prescription medication, many users of the drug start off abusing other prescription opioids before turning to this illegal drug. Recent research now shows that most heroin addicts typically start abusing it around the age of 23 years. Most of them also come from affluent suburbs and are unwittingly compelled to start abusing the drug after their doctor prescribed opioids run out.

The CDC (or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has reported that overdoses arising from heroin and other prescription opioids are among the leading causes of accidental death in the United States - a number that rose by 14% between 2013 and 2014.

10. Fentanyl

Fentanyl citrate is classified as a Class II drug under the controlled substances act. Today, it is widely considered to be the most powerful of all drugs contributing to the opioid crisis in the American market.

Doctors typically administer this drug intravenously as well as in the form of a lozenge or transdermal patch for the relief of severe pain following surgery, for patients who have already developed a tolerance to the other opioids, as well as for chronic pain that is difficult to manage.

The particular type of this drug that is responsible for causing the greatest number of overdoses is typically sold on the street in pill and powder form. Some drug dealers, however, also mix the drug with heroin in clandestine laboratories to increase the effects produced by this combination.

On the street, fentanyl is also known by a variety of names - including Cash, Tango, TNT, Murder 8, Jackpot, Goodfella, China Girl, and Apache.

11. Hydrocodone

Hydrocodone is available in pill form. It is a more powerful type of opioid that is similar to codeine. Additionally, it is usually mixed with acetaminophen. Today, hydrocodone is among the most commonly prescribed painkillers in the opioid class of drugs according to reports from the FDA. However, this also means that it is also the most abused.

If you overdose on hydrocodone, you are likely to experience slowed breathing, severely constricted pupils, and cold and clammy skin - effects that work hand in hand to cause a loss of consciousness and, in the most dangerous of cases, sudden death.

12. Oxycodone

Another powerful narcotic analgesic, Oxycodone is typically prescribed for the treatment of moderate to severe pain. Doctors often prescribe it in the form of an extended release formula - particular for patients who will need to use it over the long haul.

Even so, you are advised never to dissolve, crush, chew, or break these extended release pills. This is because the intense rush of oxycodone entering the system could potentially lead to severe and adverse health consequences, including but not limited to overdose and sudden death.

Still, although oxycodone is highly addictive, experts do not consider it to be as frequently abused as another opioid - hydrocodone. Today, it is available in a wide variety of trade names, including Tylox, Percodan, Percocet, and OxyContin.

13. Morphine

A powerful drug that has been responsible for part of the opioid crisis that is plaguing the country, morphine is usually administered intravenously for severe pain. However, the drug is also available in the form of pills - typically as extended release capsules and tablets.

In many cases, doctors will only prescribe morphine for the treatment of difficult and chronic pain that has refused to respond to another analgesic or pain relief medication.

Morphine is similar to the other opioids in the sense that mixing it with alcohol and other drugs can increase your risk of experience severe breathing problems - among other serious and life threatening side effects.

More On The Opioid Crisis

Experts agree that the US is on the throes of an opioid crisis. This epidemic is clear, especially given the fact that more than 2 million people in the country have abused or become dependent on opioid street drugs and prescription pain killers.

Essentially, opioids are created to replicate some of the pain killing properties of the drug opium. Today, they include legal pain relief medications like hydrocodone, oxycodone, and morphine - drugs that doctors commonly prescribe for the management of chronic or acute pain - as well as illegal substances like fentanyl (which is sometimes made illicitly) and heroin.

In 2016, statistics show that more than 63,000 people lose their lives as a result of overdosing on drugs - with more than 42,000 of these people dying due to an opioid overdose. This number was an average of about 115 deaths on a daily basis.

From 1992 to 2012, the number of opioid drugs prescribed by doctors increased to 282 million from a paltry 112 million prescriptions. This is according to IMS Health, which is a market research company. Since then, however, the number of opioid prescriptions issued by doctors have been declining steadily - eventually falling to about 236 million by the end of 2016.

But what is responsible for the opioid crisis? Essentially, these drugs work by binding themselves to receptors in the spinal cord and the brain - thereby disrupting the signals of pain passing through the body. However, the drugs also activate some of the reward sections of the brain because they can cause an increase in the release of the hormone dopamine - thereby creating intense feelings of euphoria and pleasure - described as a high.

These drugs are derived from the poppy opium plant that grows naturally in South America, Central America, and Asia. When this happens, they lead to the production of opioids like codeine and morphine. However, other opioids are derived from these drugs - such as heroin which is illegally synthesized from the drug morphine.

Oxycodone and hydrocodone, on the other hand, are semi-synthetic opioids. This means that they are manufactured in laboratories using both synthetic and natural ingredients.

From 2007 to 2016, hydrocodone (brand name Vicodin) was the most commonly prescribed opioid in the United States. It was so widely prescribed that more than 6.2 billion pills of the drug were distributed across the country. Oxycodone (brand name Percocet) followed closely, with more than 5 billion tablets of it being distributed in the country. According to the INCB (or the International Narcotics Control Board), the United States was responsible for the consumption of more than 99% of the total amount of hydrocodone in the world in 2015.

Another opioid, Fentanyl is synthetically manufactured. It was originally created to act as a potent anesthetic during surgery. However, today it comes with other uses - including the alleviation of severe pain arising from some terminal diseases like cancer.

Fentanyl is among the most powerful of all opioids. In fact, it is close to 100 times as powerful as morphine. As such, it comes with a high risk of overdose - and even a small dose of it can prove fatal. Illegally manufactured fentanyl is also considered to be a major driving force in the rising number of overdose deaths linked to opioids in the past few years.

Another synthetic opioid, methadone is commonly prescribed for treating recovering heroin addicts. This is because it is effective at relieving some of the more painful and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that arise when an addict tries to overcome their abuse of heroin.

Opioid Addiction

To better understand the opioid crisis, it is important that you have some knowledge of opioid addiction. In medical circles, opioid use disorder is a clinical term used to describe both opioid abuse and addiction.

If you develop dependence to opioids, it is highly likely that you are going to experience adverse withdrawal symptoms if you reduce your usual dose or stop taking these drugs altogether.

In many cases, dependence arises after tolerance - a point in which you will find that you need to take larger and larger doses of your preferred opioid to achieve the pleasureable and pain relieving effects that you desire.

According to SAMHSA (abbreviation for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), more than 11 million Americans above the age of 12 abused prescription medications in 2016. Additionally, more than 0.3% of the entire American population above the age of 12 (about 948,000 people) used heroin the same year.

If you develop a dependence to prescription opioid drugs, it is highly likely that you might find yourself switching to heroin. This is because heroin is less expensive and - in many cases - easier to access than these prescription medications.

According to NIDA (abbreviation for the National Institute on Drug Abuse), more than 50% of the people who abuse heroin turned to it after they had started using and abusing prescription opioids. The same Institute reports that 3 in every 4 new heroin abusers often start out using prescription medications.

It is surprising that the number of people who abuse heroin has been going up - especially considering that the drug has been responsible for an increasing number of overdose deaths - which increased by 533% from 2002 to 2016.

Today, first responders often have naloxone at hand. This drug is available as a nasal spray and as an injection. It is used to treat drug overdose involving opioids like heroin and other prescription medications. It works by effectively reversing or blocking the effects of opioid drugs.

Funding And Regulation

According to recent studies released by the Medical Care journal, the cost of substance abuse treatment and medical care arising from the opioid crisis - including both overdose and addiction - was estimated at $78.5 billion in 2013.

In 2016, the 21st Century Cure Act was passed. It effectively allocated a sum of $1 billion over a period of 2 years to fight the opioid crisis. These grants were provided to states and effectively issued funding for an expansion in opioid prevention and treatment programs. In 2015, the HHS (or the Health and Human Services) announced that the first round of funding would be distributed to every US state and territory.

Apart from the above, the Department of Justice also launched the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit. The mission of this unit is primarily pegged at prosecuting individuals who are apprehended committing health care fraud involving opioid drugs. Additionally, the Department of Justice appoint US attorneys specialized in cases of opioid health care fraud in more than 12 jurisdictions in the country.

Various state legislatures have also started taking action against the opioid crisis. Some of these legislatures have even introduced measures designed to regulate all pain clinics as well as to limit the number of opioids that any individual doctor can legally dispense.

Timeline Of The Opioid Crisis

But how did the opioid crisis emerge? Consider the timeline below:

a) 1861-1865

During the American Civil War, most medics used morphine as the primary anesthetic medication on the battlefield. As a direct result, many solders developed a dependence to the drug both during and after the war

b) 1898

The Bayer Company started producing heroin commercially. At the time, the drug was widely believed to come with a lower risk of habit forming dependence and addiction - particularly in comparison to morphine. As a result, doctors started prescribing and dispensing it for patients who were addicted to morphine.

c) 1914

Congress passed the Harrison Narcotics Act that effective required all doctors to prescribe narcotic medications like cocaine and opioids. The law also required the distributors, manufacturers, and importers of narcotics to register with the Treasure as well as to pay taxes on these products.

d) 1924

The country passed the Anti-Heroin Act that effectively banned the production, sale, and distribution of heroin.

e) 1970

The Controlled Substances Act was passed into law. It created schedules or groupings of drugs based on their risk and potential for abuse. Today, heroin is classified as a Schedule I drug while methadone, fentanyl, morphine, and oxycodone (OxyContin and Percocet) are classified as Schedule II medications. Vicodin (which combines acetaminophen and hydrocodone) was originally classified as a Schedule III drug but was later pushed to Schedule II in 2014.

f) January 10, 1980

The New England Journal of Medicine published the "Addiction Rare in Patients Treated with Narcotics" letter; although the letter was not an official scientific study, it still reviewed the increasing incidences of dependence and addiction in specific populations of hospitalized patients. The letter would be cited later on as proof that narcotics were effective for treating chronic pain.

g) 1995

OxyContin was released into the market as a longer acting variation of oxycodone that could release the drug slowly over 12 hours. Its manufacturer, Purdue Pharma, heavily marketed it as an alternative opioid pill that was safer than other drugs in the same class.

h) May 10, 2007

The federal government brought criminal charges against the manufacturer of OxyContin for its misleading and false advertising. The company (and 3 executives) were charged with misleading, lying to, and defrauding consumers and physicians.

The company and its executives plead guilty and agreed to pay $634.5 million in civil and criminal fines. The Purdue Pharma executives also plead guilty and were sentenced to probation.

i) 2010

The FDA approved an abuse-deterrent OxyContin formulation that was designed to help reduce the risk of abuse. However, people were still able to find alternative ways of abusing the drug.

j) May 20, 2015

The DEA arrested more than 250 people - including pharmacists and doctors - after a sting operation that focused on healthcare providers who were dispensing opioids in large quantities. Otherwise dubbed Operation Pilluted, the sting was the single largest bust involving prescription drugs in the history of the organization.

k) March 18, 2016

The CDC published precise guidelines to govern prescription opioids dispensed to patients suffering from chronic pain. Its recommendations included the prescription of OTC (over the counter) painkillers like ibuprofen and acetaminophen instead of opioid drugs. The publication also encouraged doctors to promote behavioral treatments and exercise to help patients suffering intense pain.

l) March 29, 2017

President Donald Trump signed an executive order that called for the establishment of a Presidential Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.

m) July 31, 2017

After a short delay, the White House panel that had been examining the opioid crisis and epidemic released an interim report. The report effectively asked the President to declare opioids a national public health crisis and emergency.

n) September 22, 2017

CVS, a pharmacy chain, announced that it would implement new restrictions while filling prescriptions that involve opioid drugs; in the announcement, the chain said that it would only dispense limited supplies of 7 days to medications to patients who had just started treating their pain.

o) November 1, 2017

The Opioid Commission released its final report. Among the 56 recommendations it made was a proposal to establish national drug courts to ensure that opioid addicts were forced to check into treatment facilities instead of being imprisoned.

p) February 9, 2018

President Trump signed a budget agreement that authorized $6 billion to help with opioid programs; in 2018, the agreement allocated $3 while $3 billion were allocated for the 2019 financial year.

q) February 27, 2018

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced another initiative against the opioid crisis. Also known as the PIL (Prescription Interdiction and Litigation) Task Force, it has the mission of supporting local jurisdiction that file lawsuits against drug makers and distributors of prescription opioids.

r) March 19, 2018

The administration outlined a new initiative to reduce, prevent, and completely eliminate opioid abuse. The new initiative is to focus on education and prevention through ad campaigns, job seeking assistance for people fighting an opioid addiction, and law enforcement and interdiction.

s) April 9, 2018

The US SG (surgeon general) issued an advisory that recommended ordinary Americans to start carrying naloxone - a drug that can reverse an opioid overdose.

t) May 1, 2018

A study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that synthetic opioids like fentanyl were responsible for 46% of all opioid deaths arising in 2016. This number was a 3 fold increase from 2010 when these synthetic drugs were responsible for 14% of all overdose deaths arising from opioid abuse. It was also the first time in the history of the United States that these synthetic opioids surpassed heroin and prescription opioids as the leading cause of opioid overdose fatalities.

The Opioid Overdose Crisis

According to recent statistics, more than 115 Americans lose their lives on a daily basis as a result of overdosing on an opioid drug. To this end, the abuse of and addiction to these drugs - including synthetic opioids like fentanyl, heroin, and prescription pain relievers - comprises a national epidemic that has been affecting both the public health sector as well as economic and social welfare.

Today, the CDC reports that the total economic burden of prescription opioid abuse on its own is more than $78.5 billion every year. This burden comes in the form of lost productivity, involvement with the criminal justice system, addiction treatment, and the costs of healthcare and treatment.

But what are the historic origins of the opioid crisis? From the last 90s, a number of pharmaceutical companies started reassuring the medical and healthcare community that their clients would not develop dependence on and addiction to prescription opioid painkillers. As a result, many healthcare providers started prescribing these drugs at higher rates.

Eventually, this led to people diverting and misusing these painkillers. This was before it started becoming clear just how addictive these medications were. Over time, therefore, the rates of overdose arising from these drugs started increasing.

By 2015, for instance, over 33,000 Americans lost their lives as a result of overdosing on an opioid drug - including the illicitly manufactured fentanyl, heroin, and prescription opioids. The same year, more than 2 million people in the country suffer substance use disorders directly linked to prescription painkillers while 591,000 suffered heroin use disorders (although the two are not entirely mutually exclusive).

But how bad is the opioid crisis? And what can we tell about this epidemic? Consider the following statistics:

  • Between 21 and 29% of the patients who receive a prescription for opioids to use in managing chronic pain end up misusing their drugs
  • Between 8 to 12% of these patients eventually develop opioid use disorders
  • Close to 80% of all the people who abuse heroin started by abusing prescription opioid drugs
  • From July 2016 to September 2017, the number of overdoses arising from the opioid crisis increased by 30% in 52 areas of the 45 states that were surveyed
  • In particular, the Midwest saw an increase of 70% in opioid overdoses from July 2016 through to September 2017
  • It is estimated that 4 to 6% of all people who abuse prescription opioid medications eventually transition to heroin
  • Opioid overdoses increased by 54% in the large cities of 16 states

The Northeast, in particular, had the highest rate of opioid overdoses in 2017 while Midwestern rates of cases of these overdoses saw the largest increase the same year.

The opioid crisis has now become a cause for concern and a public health problem. This is particularly on account of the devastating consequences that it causes - including the increase in the abuse of opioid drugs and all related cases of overdose.

Additionally, the crisis now encompasses the rising incidence of the especially dangerous neonatal abstinence syndrome arising as a result of women who use and misuse opioid drugs while pregnant.

In the same way, the increased rate of intravenous opioid abuse has also led to a simultaneous increase in the incidence of infectious diseases like hepatitis C and HIV.

Solutions From The NIH And The HHS

The HHS (or the US Department of Health and Human Services) has been responding to this crisis. In particular, it has been focusing its efforts and funding on the following areas of priority:

  • Advancing better practices in the management of pain conditions
  • Improving access to recovery and treatment services
  • Promoting the use of certain drugs to reverse opioid overdoses (including naloxone)
  • Providing more support for the latest research studies on addiction and pain relief
  • Strengthening the understanding of the general public about the opioid crisis and epidemic through improved public health surveillance

On the other hand, the NIH (or the National Institutes of Health) - which works under the HHS - is the leading medical research institute in the country. It has also been working to help solve this crisis through the discovery of new (and better) ways to reduce the risk of opioid abuse, provide treatment and rehabilitation for opioid use disorders, and the management of pain.

In 2017, the NIH hosted a meeting of academic research centers and pharmaceutical companies to discuss the following:

  • Improvements in overdose reversal and prevention interventions with a view to save more lives and support the ongoing recovery of the victims of opioid overdose
  • New and innovative technologies and medications for the treatment of opioid use disorders
  • Safer, more effective and non-addictive strategies for the management of chronic pain

The HEAL (or Helping to End Addiction Long Term) initiative was also instituted in April 2018. The aim of this initiative is to provide aggressive efforts between different healthcare agencies with a view to speed up the number of scientific solutions designed to deal with the ongoing opioid crisis in the United States.

Dealing With The Opioid Crisis

Opioids are a class of drugs that encompasses heroin (which is an illegal drug) as well as other potent pain relief medications like fentanyl, morphine, codeine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, and other medications.

According to recent studies, more than 42000 Americans lost their lives as a result of overdosing on these drugs in 2016. The same way, more than 40% of all overdose deaths involving opioids involved prescription medications.

In the same way, studies show that more than 1000 people receive treatment in emergency rooms in the country on a daily basis as a result of abusing and misusing prescription opioid medications. Every day, also, 115 Americans lose their lives as a result of overdosing on opioids.

These incidences are so troubling that drug overdose is now considered to be the leading cause of unintentional or accidental death in the country - with the opioid crisis driving this epidemic to a large extent.

To understand this crisis, it is essential that you challenge your preconceptions about drug abuse and addiction as well as to have a clear picture of the groups and populations that are highest risk of developing such an addiction.

It would also help if you informed yourself about how you can prevent an overdose death when you encounter it, as well as take the time to learn more about the different forms of treatment available for an opioid addiction and use disorder.

You might also want to learn more about the opioid crisis - including the use of these drugs, the addiction they cause, as well as how the epidemic has been evolving over time to become the public health crisis that is now plaguing the country. During these studies, you should also inform yourself about:

  • Empathic evidence-based approaches (behavioral approaches) and other effective medications that doctors and healthcare professionals can provide for the treatment of opioid addiction
  • How to manage pain without using opioids, and how to use opioids for this purpose
  • Life after an opioid addiction
  • That addiction to opioids is a condition that affects the brain, and it is not a lack of will
  • The different treatments for men and women who are addicted to opioids
  • The different ways men and women develop an opioid addiction
  • The effects and influences of opioid addiction on teens and young people
  • The fact that there are many different ways in which people can develop an opioid addiction
  • The impact of opioid abuse and addiction to individuals, families, schools, workplaces, communities, and society at large
  • The latest approaches for reducing harm that public health and law enforcement officials have been using to reduce and completely eliminate overdose deaths arising as a result of opioid abuse
  • The medical and various non-medical uses of opioids, including fentanyl and heroin
  • The neurological pathways to and risks of opioid addiction

In the same way, to better understand the opioid crisis, it is essential that you teach yourself about the origins and spread of these medications and how people use, misuse, and eventually become addicted to opioids.

In particular, you will learn that there are some appropriate ways through which opioids as a class of drugs can be effectively used in the treatment and management of particular pain conditions and ailments.

You might also want to explore the impact of opioid abuse and addiction on individuals, families, and communities. In the course of your research, you additionally learn about the main differences between women and men with respect to opioid addiction, withdrawal, and treatment - as well as how opioid addiction affects young people and teens.

Overall, if you have been affected by the opioid crisis - either directly as an addict or indirectly as the loved one of someone who is addicted to these drugs - it is imperative that you seek therapy and treatment to ensure that the medications do not continue causing more harm in your life.

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