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Article Summary

The Opioid Crisis

Research studies have been showing that over 100 people die every day as a result of suffering an opioid overdose. Additionally, there has been an increase in the abuse of opioids - including drugs like fentanyl, heroin, and prescription pain relief medications.

It is due to this increase that the United States has declared the opioid crisis. This is because the drugs have been affecting public health, economic welfare, and the fabric of the national society.

According to the CDC - the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - for instance, it is estimated that the total economic burden arising from the abuse of prescription opioids alone goes over and beyond the $78.5 billion mark every year. This is because these drugs are responsible for costs to the healthcare system, addiction treatment, criminal justice system involvement, and lost productivity.

The History of Opioids in the United States

During the 1990s onwards, pharmaceutical companies that produce opioids assured the national medical community that the patients who took opioids would not develop a substance use disorder. As a result, there was a steady increase in the number of prescriptions written for these medications.

Over time, this lead to the widespread abuse and diversion of these medications - even before people started understanding the true addictive qualities of opioids and other associated drugs.

Additionally, there was an increase in the rates of drug overdose involving opioids. In 2017, for instance, over 47000 people lost their lives after suffering a drug overdose related to these substances - including fentanyl, heroin, and prescription opioids.

In 2017 also, it was reported that more than 1.7 million Americans were struggling with a substance use disorder involving these medications while another 652000 people were addicted to heroin.

Statistics on Opioid Abuse and Addiction in the United States

To understand the true extent of the opioid crisis in the United States, it is important to have a quick review of some of the figures and statistics relating to the abuse of these drugs. Consider the following:

  • 8 to 12 percent of the people who have an opioid prescription end up struggling with a substance use disorder
  • Between 21 and 29 percent of the patients who receive a prescription for opioids for the treatment of chronic pain end up abusing their medications
  • Between 4 and 6 percent of the people who abuse prescription opioid pain relief medications end up transitioning to heroin because it is cheaper and more readily available
  • From 2016 to 2017, there was a 30 percent increase in the rates of drug overdoses involving opioids in 52 areas across 45 American states
  • Large cities in 16 states reported an increase of 54 percent in the rates of opioid overdoses
  • More than 80 percent of the people who are addicted to heroin started by abusing prescription opioids
  • There was a 70 percent increase in the rates of opioid overdoses in the Midwestern region of the United States between 2016 and 2017

The opioid abuse and addiction problem has become so serious that it has been declared a national public health crisis in the United States. This is particularly because it has caused some devastating consequences among individuals, as well as in families, communities, and societies at large.

Further, the condition has been leading to an increase in the incidence of infectious diseases like hepatitis B and C and HIV as well as neonatal abstinence syndrome (among families where the mother was abusing opioids while expecting a child).

Understanding the American Opioid Epidemic

The consequences of opioid abuse and addiction are all too clear to those who have been following the trends in the rates of the misuse of this class of drugs. Additionally, many people who are struggling with opioid use disorders often end up suffering some adverse withdrawal symptoms when they try to overcome their addiction.

In 2016, for instance, more than 42000 lives were lost in the United States as a result of a drug overdose involving opioids. It was also estimated that more than 40 percent of these deaths were linked to prescription opioid medications.

The same year, it was also estimated by the CDC that there were more than 41000 new cases of HCV2 in the United States; of this number, more than 68 percent reported intravenous drug use involving substances like opioids

The increased focus on opioids - as well as their abuse and addiction - has improved public awareness with regards to the severity and extent of the substance abuse problem affecting so many people in the country. In particular, many studies have been focusing on the impact of this crisis on families and children.

But what are opioids? Essentially, they are a class of substances that include various illicit drugs like heroin and fentanyl, as well as prescription medications like OxyContin and hydrocodone.

Although there are many types of these drugs that are commonly abused across the United States, research studies have mostly focused on prescription opioids. This is because these medications have been causing more than 44 deaths per day in the United States - according to the CDC.

Further, these studies have shown that prescription pain relief medications - as well as their abuse and addiction - have been having devastating effects on children, families, and just about anyone else who has engaged in their abuse.

Additionally, there has been an increase in the total number of children born with neonatal withdrawal syndrome. This normally happens when a baby is born to a mother who was abusing opioids when they were expectant.

In the same way, research studies show that there has been a rise in the number of children who live in a home where the parents abuse opioids and are addicted to these medications.

Today, opioid abuse, tolerance, dependence, and addiction are national health concerns in the United States. This is not exactly surprising especially when you consider the fact that Americans use more than 80 percent of the global supply of opioids - particularly pain medications that contain this substance.

What is more alarming being the fact that Americans use up more than 99 percent of all the hydrocodone that is produced across the globe. This substance is a synthetic opioid and it is created from codeine. However, it is highly potent and addictive, and has been contributing to the growing opioid crisis in the United States.

Many researchers now believe that this crisis stemmed from the increase in awareness among physicians of the chronic pain conditions that were affecting - and continue affecting - Americans.

Coupled with the promotion of opioids by pharmaceutical companies as the best solution against chronic pain, it is not exactly surprising that doctors started prescribing these medications in higher doses. Over the past 2 decades, opioids are the most commonly pain medications in the country.

In the same way, many Americans now believe that medications that they received through a prescription written by their doctor cannot be harmful. When you combine this belief with the pleasurable euphoria caused by opioids, it is easy to understand the allure of this class of addictive substances.

Opioid Abuse and Addiction

According to NIDA - the National Institute on Drug Abuse - using opioids can be safe especially if you are following the instructions that your doctor gave you. This is particularly true if you take these medications over the short term and with a valid prescription.

However, opioids also cause the release of pleasurable sensations in the brain. When you take this class of medications, you will experience pleasure, euphoria, and happiness - whether in the short or in the long term. Due to these effects, you may soon find yourself abusing them.

If you use opioids on a regular basis - even while following your doctor's prescription and instructions exactly - there is a high risk that you could develop tolerance. When this happens, you will increasingly find yourself taking the drugs in higher doses or more often than you used to. Only by so doing will you be able to derive the pleasurable effects that your brain has come to associate with these drugs.

Over time, your tolerance will be replaced by dependence. When this happens, you will no longer be able to operate or function normally unless you have taken your normal dose of opioids.

Dependence could also give rise to the development of an opioid use disorder. Once you get to this stage, you will no longer be able to stop taking these substances unless you are enrolled in a professional addiction treatment and rehabilitation program.

If you try to reduce your normal dose of opioids or significantly reduce the dose that you have become accustomed to, there is a high risk that you could suffer some withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings. For this reason, you will continue abusing opioids.

Effects of Opioids

When you take opioids, they will first cause you to experience a significant reduction in any type of pain that you may be feeling. The drugs work on the brain and the body to increase the production of feel good hormones such as dopamine.

These hormones are essential for your continued survival. This is because they are released every time you engage in a life affirming activity, such as taking care of a baby, eating food, engaging in good conversation, or performing a sexual action.

Due to ongoing opioid use, you may experience an increase in the production of these hormone. As a direct result, your brain will come to associate opioid with the resultant euphoric pleasure that you enjoy when you take these drugs. This will further reinforce your susceptibility to opioids.

However, abusing these drugs could also lead to many negative outcomes. For starters, they could cause you to develop tolerance, dependence, and addiction - or an opioid use disorder.

In the same way, they can also cause you to suffer in different ways. For instance, if you are addicted to opioids and you become pregnant, you might continue abusing these drugs even during your pregnancy. This will undoubtedly have negative effects on your unborn baby.

As an user of opioids, you may also start neglecting your health and wellness. This means that you might stop eating right or drinking enough water - which could lead to your physical decline.

Your performance at work, school, and home might also start suffering. This will invariably lead to negative consequences such as losing your spot in school or at work, or even losing your family and the other loved ones who live in your home.

Responses to the American Opioid Crisis

But what has the federal government - as well as state and local governments been doing to address the opioid crisis? Consider the following measures that these bodies have been focusing on:

  • Discussing effective, safe, and non-addictive options for the management of chronic pain
  • Improving access to addiction recovery and treatment services for people who are addicted to opioids
  • Improving opioid overdose reversal and prevention interventions to support recovery as well as save lives
  • Making advancements in the use of other practices for the management of pain, other than the use of opioids
  • Promoting the use of drug overdose reversal medications like naloxone
  • Providing support and funding for research on addiction, pain, and medications to address pain conditions
  • Strengthening public understanding of the opioid epidemic through improved public health awareness and surveillance campaigns
  • Using new and innovative technologies and medications for the treatment of opioid addiction or opioid use disorders

Additionally, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that there has been an increase in the number of supportive services provided as well as research grants available for addressing the increasing rates of opioid abuse.

Getting Help

If you are addicted to opioids, however, there is really one option open to you - to check into an addiction treatment and rehabilitation program so that you can get the help that you need to overcome your growing opioid use disorder - and manage any other co-occurring medical and mental health disorders. The sooner you are able to do this, the better it will be for you and the faster you may be able to achieve a state of complete recovery.

CITATIONS

http://nationalacademies.org/opioidepidemic/

https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/index.html

https://www.cdc.gov/opioids/index.html

https://www.hhs.gov/opioids/about-the-epidemic/index.html

https://www.hrsa.gov/opioids

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30426871

https://www.opioids.gov/

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