However, despite the alarming rate of death from opioid overdose, this problem is not grabbing the headlines from the media for health stakeholders to pay more attention and look for ways to finding lasting solutions to the anomaly.
It is worthy to note that, while many people are addicted to opioids in the form of heroin and synthetic opioids, millions of people are out there, taking an overdose of opioids in the form of pain reliever prescription for chronic pains and other related health issues. Though, opioids are used in the treatment of chronic pain, research has suggested that they may not help relieve pain in the long-term. This has posed a serious threat to public health and economic welfare, not only for the United States but other affected countries as well.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the total “economic burden” of only opioid misuse prescription in the US is estimated as $78.5 billion per year, inclusive of lost productivity, criminal justice involvement, healthcare cost, and addiction treatment.
This article aims to look at how we come to this point, some facts about opioids in the United States, and some useful information about opioid overdose. Read on to uncover them all.
Opioids and Substance Abuse at a Glance.
Opiates, popularly known as narcotics, are commonly prescribed for quick pain relief and sleep inducement. Originally, it is derived from poppy plant seeds or their byproducts. Opiates occur naturally in the form of opium and morphine, but most opiates are synthetic. These drugs became highly addictive because they create an intense sense of euphoria and as well as safeness, when adding it to pain-relieving properties.
Most patients with pain disorders later turn to rely on pharmaceutical opiates like oxycodone and hydrocodone; hence, they become addicted to it. However, opioid overdose has been studied to cause a number of health problems in the users, and these health issues are not limited to serious disorders, but even death. One of the prolonged effects of opioid usages is the brain’s inability to produce endorphins naturally. Endorphins are known to be the body’s natural painkillers.
Initially, around late 1990s, when opioids were becoming popular among the people, pharmaceutical companies came out to allay the fear of the people and reassure the medical community that opiate users would not become addicted to opioids prescribed for pain relief; hence, healthcare service providers started prescribing the drugs to patients at greater rates. Subsequently, this act resulted in a extensive misuse and diversion of these drugs prior to the time it was discovered that opioid prescriptions could actually be highly addictive like other opiates.
Facts about Opioid Prescription and Misuse in America.
The rates of opioid overdose in the United States started increasing in 2017 with over 47,000 citizens died due to misuse of opioids, such as heroin, prescription opioids, illicitly manufactured fentanyl (one of the powerful opioid synthetics). In the same year, this number was estimated 1.7 million and 652,000 Americans suffered from prescription opioid pain relievers and heroin use disorder respectively. The question is, how does it start?
It all starts when the body cannot properly manage and regulate pain again. In this condition, an opiate user may become addicted to the drugs, as the drugs now used to relief their pain and at the same time, create a sense of contentment and happiness in using them. Over time, even after the pains have gone, an opiate user will require more of the substance to reach the same level of high that creates happiness and contentment which they first experienced; hence, the person is already “an opiate addict.” Withdrawing from its use makes it even worse, as their bodies begin to show some unpleasant symptoms that make the user seeking more to relieve the symptoms.
From here, opioid prescription and misuse have turned out to become a public health problem in the United States with alarming rates of death on a daily basis.
Below are some facts about the opioid crisis in the United States:
- According to WQAD Digital Team’s claim of IMS Health’s market research, the number of opioid prescriptions doctors dispensed increased from 112 million to 282 million from 1992 to 2012 respectively. However, according to IQVIA, the number has declined to 236 million in 2016 and further dropped by 10.2% in 2017.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 68% of cases of estimated 70,200 drug overdose deaths recorded in 2017 were linked to the use of opioids. This is more than six times compared to that of 1999 (including illegal opioids such as heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl and prescription opioids).
- According to a review, about 21 – 29% of patients with chronic pain who take opioids prescription misuse them.
- Another study also claimed that roughly 80% of heroin users initially misused prescription opioids.
- The same study also claimed that about 8 – 12% of opiate users develop an opioid use disorder.
- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is a 30% increase in opioid overdoses in 45 states of the United States between July 2016 to September 2017.
- In another review, opioid overdoses were seen increasing by 70% in the Midwestern region between July 2016 to September 2017.
What is been doing about it?
With over two million opioid dependants in the United States, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is making efforts to tackle the opioid crisis in America by focusing on five major areas. These include:
- Promoting and enlighten people on the use of overdose-reversing drugs.
- Giving people access to treatment and recovery therapies.
- Offering support for modern research on addiction and pain.
- Promoting public health surveillance to help people understand the epidemic better.
- Enhancing better pain management practices in the country.
In furtherance to the efforts of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the National Institutes of Health (NIH)’s Director Francis S. Collins in April 2018’s National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit, announced the launch of a special program referred to HEAL (Helping to End Addiction Long-term) Initiative. HEAL is an aggressive effort set up to expedite scientific solutions to address the opioid crisis in the United States.
Just because media are not paying attention to the opioid crisis in the US does not mean things are working in the medical world. With the alarming rate of opioid overdose and an increasing number of Americans abusing prescription and becoming dependent on opioids, all hands must be on deck to find a lasting solution to the current problem. While different agencies and stakeholders are not relenting on their efforts, more medical developments and approaches are still required to achieve a good result.