More than 70,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2017. That number is significantly larger than the number of people who die in car crashes every year. More than 70 percent of the drug overdoses were caused by opiates. Many people have a skewed perspective. They think that overprescribing medication is the main cause of the problem. The issue is far more complex than overprescribing opiates. Recreational drug users are the main cause of the opiate epidemic. To have a better understanding of the opiate crisis, you need a brief overview of the history of the crisis.
The History of the Opiate Crisis
The United States has had several drug epidemics in the last 40 years. Humans have a tendency to use vices when they are experiencing difficult times. There are key milestones that changed the course of the opiate epidemic. In 1995, Oxycontin became an approved prescription drug. Many people became hooked on Oxycontin. They looked for doctors who would prescribe them the medication. Some people crushed the pills and injected the substance.
In the last decade of the 20th century, prescriptions for opiate medications tripled. Some doctors were over prescribing opiate medications. Purdue Pharma was sued for giving inaccurate information about Oxycontin. The company paid claimants several millions of dollars. By the year 2011, there was an excess of opiate medications being sold illegally in the United States. The government decided to regulate the use of prescription opioid medications.
Controlling the Opiate Crisis
Doctors became more fastidious about prescribing opiate medications. Purdue released a new formulation of Oxycontin. The new formulation is an unusable gummy substance when it is crushed. Addicts started using heroin when they could not get Oxycontin. As a result, there are not many deaths from prescribed opioids. Many of the deaths are caused by a lethal cocktail of mixing opioids, other drugs and alcohol. A very small dose of fentanyl can be lethal. The drug is significantly more potent than morphine. The illegal supply of fentanyl is mostly coming from Mexico and China. Opiate use during pregnancy is a major problem for healthcare professionals. Every year, many babies are born addicted to opiates. Newborns experience withdrawal syndrome.
Opiate Abuse Statistics
More than 10 million people misused prescription opioids in 2020. More than one million people are addicted to opiates. 745,000 people used heroin in 2020. The number of opiate overdoses is increasing in every state. The pandemic may be partly responsible for the increase. Social distancing has led to the closure of many drug addiction treatment programs. The numbers need to be significantly lower. The government is working hard to inform people about the danger of illegal opiate usage.
Opiate Abuse Risk Factors
Several populations have a higher risk of becoming addicted to opiate drugs. Seniors who are more likely to live with chronic pain have a high rate of using opiates. Many veterans who are living with PTSD overuse opiates. Some members of the LGBTQ community use opiates to cope with being socially isolated. Many people in rural communities have inadequate mental health services. They are more likely to treat their depression with opiates. Some adolescents experiment with opiate drugs. Many of those young people become addicted to opiates in their adulthood.
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There are signs that can indicate an addiction to opiate drugs. A lack of energy is common. Many addicts have constricted pupils. Opiate users may appear disconnected during social interactions. When an opiate user begins to withdraw from opiates, medical treatment may be needed. Without medical treatment, the person might relapse. Common withdrawal symptoms are muscle aches, insomnia, frequent sweating, anxiety and watery eyes.
The short-term effects of opiate abuse:
- Pain relief
- Impaired thinking
The long-term effects of opiate abuse:
- Sexual dysfunction
- Abdominal discomfort
- Liver damage
- Brain damage
Working Together To Control the Opiate Epidemic
Fortunately, the government has a plan to lower the numbers. The CDC is implementing new programs to get the opiate overdose crisis under control. They are working with states to provide care for people who are addicted to opiates. The organization is tracking opiate overdoses. They are also improving toxicology. The new measures will help the CDC track deaths that are linked to multiple substances. The CDC has implemented prescription drug monitoring programs to monitor opiate addicts.
Collaboration is an important part of preventing opiate overdose deaths. Medical professionals, first responders and members of the community can all work together. With a collaborative effort, many opiate overdose deaths can be prevented.