The Opioid Crisis
Updated: May 28, 2019
What it means and what we can do about it.
"The Opioid Crisis" is quite the buzzword these days. President Donald Trump declared it a public health emergency in fall of 2017 — but it started long ago. Some recovery efforts were enforced by the Obama administration, the CDC, NIH, FDA, and many, many alternative independent companies have issued warnings, data, and concerns. But where did it start?
Almost 30 years ago (in the 90's), pharmaceutical companies released opioid pain relievers stating they were non-addictive. Or, at least, the risk of addiction was very low. OxyContin® (oxycodone) representatives traveled all over the United States, leaving doctors with gifts, samples, and all-expenses-paid conferences. In 1996, OxyContin sales rose to around $48 million — by 2012, that number skyrocketed to $2.4 billion. And that's just OxyContin. Other opioids — like morphine, codeine, and hydrocodone — followed the same sickening trajectory. All in all, opioid prescriptions increased 300% between 1991 and 2009 — all under the pretense that patients couldn't become addicted.
As we now know, they were sorely mistaken. In fact, some newer studies show opioid addiction can occur after just 5 days of taking them.
In the early 2000's, patients and doctors alike began to accept the complications surrounding opioids. More stringent regulations resulted in less opioid prescriptions, but that hardly resolved the problems. Around 2010, there was a sharp increase in heroin usage and overdose. Simply, those who couldn't obtain opioids legally found a different way to obtain the drug. They were addicted. Their brains had changed. The compulsion to use could hardly be stopped by force of will. The disease was beyond their control. From 2002 to 2013, heroin overdoses spiked by 286% and 80% of heroin abusers admitted to misusing prescription opioids before turning to heroin.
Yet another spike occurred in 2013 with the manufacture of synthetic opioids like Fentanyl. In 2016, there were 20,000 deaths from Fentanyl alone; 46,000 total opioid deaths in 2016. And, of course, people have learned to manufacture the drug illegally. Patients are no longer relying on doctors' prescriptions.
The numbers aren't slowing down either. Over 130 Americans die from opioid overdose every day.
What We Know About The Crisis
Opioids are highly addictive.
From 1999 – 2017, almost 400,000 people died from an overdose involving any opioid, including prescription and illicit opioids.
In 2017, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids was 6 times higher than in 1999.
21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them.
8 to 12 percent develop an opioid use disorder
4 to 6 percent who misuse prescription opioids transition to heroin (estimated).
About 80 percent of people who use heroin previously misused prescription opioids.
On average, 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.
How to Lower Your Risk of Opiate Addiction For Yourself & Those Around You
First, Replace: Consider whether you really need them. If ibuprofen or tylenol will do, take it instead.
Then, Reduce: If you're prescribed 7 days of opiates, you don't need to take them the full duration. Opioids are not like antibiotics, they don't require the full course to be successful. If your pain is minimized and manageable before the prescription is fully used, consider disposing of any unused medication in a safe & approved location
If you need to take the medication:
Follow all prescription guidelines
Only take medication that is prescribed to you, do not take someone else’s prescription even if it is for a legitimate purpose. On the other hand, do not give anyone your prescription even if it is for a legitimate purpose.
Do not take opioids with alcohol
Make sure you understand the signs of an overdose or a bad reaction to the medication. Call your doctor immediately. Call 911 if it is an emergency.
Follow up with your physician as directed
Dispose of any unused medication in a safe & approved location
Signs & Symptoms of Opiate Addiction
Changes in typical behavior or habits such as withdrawal from enjoyable activities or deterioration of personal hygiene
Constricted (small) pupils
Increased drowsiness or nodding off during daytime hours
Poor focus, confusion, or deliriousness
Euphoria or high and/or significant mood changes
Slowed breathing (opioids can inhibit respiration, thus causing overdose)
Intense withdrawal symptoms (when the opioid is stopped), such as increased pain and/or flu-like symptoms such as headache, vomiting and diarrhea, sweating, fatigue, anxiety and insomnia