The Opioid Epidemic: How Did We Get Here?
America is in the midst of an opioid drug epidemic. Drug overdose is the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. The majority of these deaths involve opioids. The National Safety Council finds that the odds of dying from an opioid overdose in the United States are now greater than those of dying in a vehicle crash. Opioids include painkillers like oxycodone or morphine prescribed by doctors for acute or chronic pain to illegal drugs found on the street like heroin or illicitly made fentanyl.
How The Opioid Epidemic Began
Prior to the 90s, the use of opioids to treat pain was limited. Two major factors that contributed to the increase of opioids being prescribed was that the pharmaceutical companies had aggressive marketing campaigns informing doctors that opioid pain meds were safe, effective and non-addictive. The benefits of the drugs were overstated and the risks understated. Well meaning doctors prescribed opioids for pain for not only migraines and toothaches, but for sports injuries and back pain. Another factor that contributed to physicians prescribing opioids was that doctors were also being pressured in the 90s to treat pain more aggressively. If pain was at a level 5 out of 10, they were mandated to prescribe pain meds. It was the compassionate thing to do…to relieve patients of their pain.
The patients suffering from pain received a prescription from a family doctor and filled the prescription at a local pharmacy. The problem was that the patient received pain relief in the beginning, but needed more and more of the drug to get the same relief. With exposure to a highly addictive drug, almost anyone can become addicted. Addiction did not discriminate; people of all ages, socioeconomic groups, and geographical locations became addicted. Many that became addicted to legally prescribed pain meds eventually turned to street drugs like heroin and fentanyl because they are cheaper and more readily available. There started to be a rise in opioid overdose death rates to where we are now… in a public health crisis not only with opioid overdose deaths, but also rising incidences of babies being born opioid dependent and outbreaks of injection related diseases.
Solutions To The Opioid Epidemic
The Opioid Crisis obviously can’t be solved overnight. To start to solve this problem and bring down overdose deaths, efforts need to be put towards:
Prevention – Education is key. We need to better educate Doctors, Dentists…the health profession as a whole about the dangers of overprescribing opioids. In 2016 the CDC published guidelines for prescribing opioids for chronic pain. We also need to educate patients, parents, teachers, coaches, and children about the risks of taking opioids for pain management and how addictive the drugs can be. Doctors need to be educated on alternative methods of safe and effective pain relief. In 2018 Trump signs into law legislation that promotes research for alternative pain medications that aren’t addictive.
Promoting Use Of Overdose Reversing Drugs – Naloxone (Narcan, Evzio) is a drug that can be given to a person to reverse opioid overdose. In 2018 the US surgeon general recommends that Americans carry Naloxone. This drug has saved many lives and can be administered by emergency personnel and also by friends or family members in the home to those in emergency overdose situations. Learn More about Naloxone, how to use it, and where to get it in your state.
Treatment – Opioid addiction is a chronic disease like diabetes or heart disease. There currently is no cure. What we need to do is to break the stigma of addiction and get those help that need it. Those with an opioid addiction do not have a morality or bad behavior problem, they have a disease and they need to get treatment.
Get Treatment For Opioid Addiction
Families and friends need to let those suffering with opioid addiction know they are not alone and that help is available giving them hope for long term recovery. Treatment addresses changes to the brain cause by opioid addiction. Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) is a proven effective treatment for opioid addiction. Medications such as Suboxone, Bunavail, and Zubsolv improve the chances for recovery as they greatly reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings. Opioid addiction counseling and support are also vital in recovery.
If you are suffering from opioid addiction, now is the time to get treatment. Contact A.M.C. of Nashville. We are here for you; offering you MAT treatment, addiction counseling and support for life long recovery. Give us a call and take your life back today.