What Exactly is the Opioid Crisis?

What is the Opioid Crisis?

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have probably heard that the United States is suffering from an opioid crisis.  What is the opioid crisis?  This crisis involves more than two million Americans, who have become addicted to pills either through prescriptions or illegal sales.

What are Opioids?

The word “opioid” derives from “opium.”  They are drugs that have been specially designed to reproduce the pain relieving capabilities of opium-derived substances. An opioid can be entirely illegal, such as heroin, or it can be a legal drug that is produced illegally, such as fentanyl. It can also be legally prescribed pain-killing pills, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone or morphine. These are not ordinary pain pills, but pain pills intended only for those who are suffering from long-term and acute pain.

The Cold Hard Facts About Opioids

In America, in 2016 alone, more than 42,000 deaths were caused by opioid overdoses. This number represents nearly two-thirds of all drug overdose deaths in the country, and it amounts to about 115 opioid deaths every single day.

A big part of what is driving the opioid crisis in America is the increase in the amount of legally obtained opioids. Back in the early 1990s, American doctors made around 110 million prescriptions for opioids. But by 2012 this number had increased to close to 300 million prescriptions. While this number has declined somewhat in recent years, the number of opioid prescriptions are still more than twice what they were in the 1990s.

The journal “Medical Care” estimated that in 2013, the cost of opioid abuse addiction and overdoses exceeded $78 billion every year.

How Opioids Work

Opioids work by disrupting pain signals in the brain and the spinal cord. They also create a high in users by releasing a hormone called dopamine.

Some opioids are derived directly from opium such as morphine, codeine, and heroin.  Others are semi-synthetically produced in laboratories, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone. The latter, also known by its brand name Vicodin, is the most prescribed opioid in America. In 2016, more than 6 billion hydrocodone pills were sold. Oxycodone, which is also known by its brand name Percocet, is the second most prescribed opioid in America. In 2016, more than 5 billion oxycodone pills were sold.

A few opioids are entirely synthetic, such as methadone and fentanyl. The latter is around 100 times stronger than morphine and can kill someone with a minimal dose. Fentanyl was created as an anesthetic and has been a leading factor in opioid overdoses in the last years.  It is chiefly driving the opioid crisis.

Facts about Opioid Addiction

People who abuse opioids and are addicted to them are said to have an opioid use disorder. Those who have this disorder often have withdrawal symptoms when they stop using them. They also often develop tolerance to the drugs. This means that they need larger and larger doses to receive the same effect.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in 2016 more than 11 million Americans over the age of 12 abused opioids in some form. The National Institute on Drug Abuse believes that about half of young people who abuse opioid pills eventually turn to heroin, which is cheaper than prescription pills. Deaths caused by heroin overdoses increased by more than 500% in America between 2012 and 2016, from 2,000 deaths to more than 13,000 deaths.

Opioid overdoses are often treated with naloxone, which can reverse or block the effect of opioids and is commonly used by those who respond to overdoses.  What is the opioid crisis?  It is a drug addiction and overdose situation that is spreading across our country in record numbers.  The number of lives lost to opioid addiction and overdose is astounding.  Contact us today to learn about treatment options for opioid addiction.

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