Whether you’re involved in the health care industry or not, you may have heard of the opioid addiction crisis in the United States. States like West Virginia, Mississippi, and Georgia, in particular, have seen record highs of drug overdose deaths related to opiates. And in 2017, the president declared a public health emergency because of the crisis.
But a report from the Government Accountability Office last year showed that the president’s declaration had done little to halt the crisis. So read on to learn what you should know about the state of the opioid public health emergency in 2019.
Basics of Opioid Addiction
Opioids are most commonly prescribed in the United States as pain medications. They work well to treat moderate to severe pain, especially after surgery, and so they gained popularity in the 1990s. They are also extremely addictive and can decrease in efficiency over the long term.
People who take opioids for a prolonged period of time develop tolerance of them. This means they have to take more of the medicine to get the same amount of pain relief. People also experience withdrawal symptoms, including anxiety, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, and muscle aches, when they stop taking the drugs.
The scale of the Epidemic
It may seem overdramatic to refer to people being hooked on codeine as an epidemic. But more than 130 Americans die every day from opioid addiction-related problems. According to the CDC, more than 400,000 people have died of opioid overdose in the last twenty years.
Since 1999, the opioid addiction rate has increased by more than 600 percent. In 2017, more than 70,000 deaths occurred related to drug overdose; almost 70 percent of these were due to opioids. The same year, 2 million people misused prescription drugs for the first time, 81,000 people used heroin for the first time, and there were 28,000 deaths related to synthetic opioids.
What Are Opioids?
So far, we’ve mentioned prescription opioids, synthetic opioids, and heroin, all of which fall under the umbrella of opioids. So let’s step back and talk for a minute about what these drugs are.
Prescription opioids are, as the name suggests, medications prescribed to a patient by their doctor. These include hydrocodone (also known as Vicodin), oxycodone (brand name OxyContin and Percocet), and morphine. Although these medications can be used in legitimate medical applications, patients stand a strong chance of becoming addicted while taking this medication.
Synthetic opioids took off in the 1990s when doctors started prescribing them as an alternative to natural opioids. These substances are extremely potent and have a huge addictive potential. They include fentanyl, tramadol, and methadone.
Heroin is also in the opiate family, although, unlike the other two classes, it is never prescribed. Both heroin and morphine come from the poppy plant, as does opium. Because it comes from the same drug class as legal opiates, people who become addicted to prescription opiates may turn to heroin to get their fix when they run out of legal options.
How Did We Get Here?
There have been three waves of the opioid addiction epidemic since it first began around the 1990s. The first came with the rise in prescription opioid-related deaths. This has been steadily increasing since the 1990s.
The second wave of the epidemic hit with the rise in heroin overdose deaths around 2010. Recently, this number has hit a plateau of around five deaths per 100,000 members of the population.
But more recently, around 2013, we have seen the third wave of the epidemic cresting. In the last six years, the number of synthetic opioid-related deaths has skyrocketed by 1,000 percent.
Declaration of Opioid Public Health Emergency
Donald Trump declared a public health emergency due to the opioid addiction epidemic. The president said, “It is time to liberate our communities from the scourge of this drug addiction.”
Unfortunately, the declaration seems to have come with little action. True, the public health emergency status has opened doors for two states to fast-track addiction treatment programs. But the president has used only three of the seventeen powers at his disposal under the emergency status, and none of them have done anything to increase funding for opioid addiction treatment programs.
Resources for the Addicted
If you or a loved one find yourself addicted to opiates, there are many resources at your disposal. The first step is to get to a recovery center during the detox process. This process can be painful and dangerous, so you should be under medical supervision to make it easier and keep you safe.
Once you are through the detox process, you’ll need to begin a treatment program to address your addiction. There are several options at your disposal, including inpatient or outpatient rehab, medication-assisted therapy, trauma-resolution therapy, and twelve-step programs. You can learn more about these options on the website for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Action You Can Take
Whether or not you are personally affected by the opioid crisis, you may want to take action to prevent it. One of the best things you can do is to be an advocate for your own healthcare and encourage your loved ones to do the same. If your doctor prescribes you opioids, ask if there are other options for pain control and, if not, establish a firm treatment plan that will help you prevent addiction.
Beyond advocating for your health care, one of the most important things we need to do is eliminate the stigma surrounding addiction and treatment. Talk openly with your family and friends about addiction, and tell them it is not a sign of immorality or weakness. Encourage anyone who may be showing symptoms of addiction to get help as soon as possible.
Get Help When You Need It
The opioid public health emergency is a crisis unlike one the United States has faced before. We aren’t facing an illness that we can vaccinate against or a gun violence problem that we just can’t seem to regulate. Instead, we are fighting drugs that, in many cases, our doctors have prescribed, and the most important thing we can do to stop it is alert, be assertive, and pass on the word.
If you or a loved one need help to deal with opioid addiction, visit the rest of our site at Coastal Detox. We can help you get through the detoxification process safely and with less pain. Learn more about our recovery management program and get back on the road to health today.