Understanding the Opioid Epidemic in America
A look at the history of the opioid crisis
In 2016, drug overdoses killed close to 64,000 people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accidental drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for people under the age of 50 in the U.S. We are in the midst of an opioid epidemic, and the path to where we are now is longer, and more involved, than many people might know.
Know your substance: opioid vs. opiate
There is a difference between an opioid and an opiate. Opiates are derived from the opium poppy, and have been used as painkillers for centuries. The most commonly-used opiates in America include:
Opiates can be derived from their natural form, as heroin and opium are, or they can be manufactured into another substance, like codeine or morphine.
Opioids are entirely or partially synthetic – and as such, far more powerful than other forms of the drug. The most famous opioid is OxyContin, but Vicodin, Dilaudid, Demerol, Percocet and, of course, fentanyl have all contributed to the crisis. Methadone is also an opioid, used to counteract the symptoms of opioid addiction withdrawal.
Why opioid addiction has increased so dramatically
There is no one reason for the opioid epidemic in this country, but there are a variety of factors which come in into play. It is important that you understand why and how these factors work, so that you understand the type of treatment your loved one will need.
Opioids were designed to treat pain. The most popular opioid in history is OxyContin, and because of a marketing campaign “claiming that the drug’s delayed-release mechanism could limit the risk of addiction,” doctors across the country prescribed the drug to their patients. OxyContin is a brand-name drug which uses oxycodone as its base, and oxycodone is up to times more powerful than morphine.
Fentanyl is another powerful synthetic drug. It was originally designed for palliative care for patients with terminal cancer. Fentanyl has been described as between 50 and 100 times stronger than morphine. The difference in strength between fentanyl and heroin is even higher.
OxyContin and fentanyl were prescribed by doctors, who may or may not have truly understood the risks associated with the drugs.
Heroin, however, is a controlled substance. It is also far less expensive than prescription opioids, and in some cases, far easier to obtain. But it is also weaker than many of the prescription pain killers on the market, which means a person will need to use more of it to experience the same effects. In many cases, people who were prescribed an opioid will turn to heroin if they cannot access, or can longer long afford, their prescription drugs.
These are just some of the reasons why we have seen such a drastic increase opioid and opiate addiction. This isn’t just about one type of addict, or one mitigating factor: it has spread to every corner of the country, and affects every type of person you know: your neighbor, his father, and his grandmother; the pizza delivery guy, the dentist and the mail carrier; the teacher, the student, and the school administrator. No one is immune from the risks.
America is fighting back
If all of this information seems dire, be hopeful: in the wake of the crisis, Americans are doing what they do best, and rallying around the cause. Insurance companies are refusing to cover prescription opioids. States are suing the pharmaceutical companies for their role in the disbursement and advertising of the drugs. Local communities are raising funds and awareness for free clinics. Doctors are refusing to prescribe the drugs.
Together, we will fight this epidemic, and find a way to help those who have suffered so much because of it.
You are not alone in the struggle against opioid addiction
The recovery process can be difficult; you want a team around you who understands your needs, and can help you take the next steps towards recovery. At Little Creek Lodge in Pennsylvania, we offer drug addiction treatments and strategies designed to empower you. To learn more, please call 877-689-2644, or fill out our contact form.