Home Life & People What You Need To Know About The Opioid Epidemic And The Actions We Should All Take Right Now

What You Need To Know About The Opioid Epidemic And The Actions We Should All Take Right Now

10 min read

Sin is in the world, and it is heartbreaking to see the effects it has on our nation. Many people in our nation have become addicted to opioids and it has become a major epidemic. There is so much that still needs to be figured out and a lot has to change. But, what can we do to combat this major issue?

Surviving the Opioid Epidemic

The United States is in the midst of an opioid overdose epidemic. Opioids (including prescription opioids and fentanyl) killed more than 33,000 people in 2015, more than any year on record. Nearly half of all opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid.

Prescription opioids can be used to treat moderate-to-severe pain and are often prescribed following surgery or injury, or for health conditions such as cancer. In recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in the acceptance and use of prescription opioids for the treatment of chronic, non-cancer pain, such as back pain or osteoarthritis, despite serious risks and the lack of evidence about their long-term effectiveness. In addition to the serious risks of addiction, abuse, and overdose, the use of prescription opioids can have a number of side effects, even when taken as directed: Tolerance—meaning you might need to take more of the medication for the same pain relief. Physical dependence—meaning you have symptoms of withdrawal when the medication is stopped. Increased sensitivity to pain. Constipation. Nausea, vomiting, and dry mouth. Sleepiness and dizziness. Confusion. Depression. Low levels of testosterone that can result in lower sex drive, energy, and strength. Itching and sweating.

Anyone who takes prescription opioids can become addicted to them. In fact, as many as one in four patients receiving long-term opioid therapy in a primary care setting struggles with opioid addiction. Once addicted, it can be hard to stop. In 2014, nearly two million Americans either abused or were dependent on prescription opioid pain relievers. Taking too many prescription opioids can stop a person’s breathing—leading to death. Prescription opioid overdose deaths also often involve benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines are central nervous system depressants used to sedate, induce sleep, prevent seizures, and relieve anxiety. Examples include alprazolam (Xanax®), diazepam (Valium®), and lorazepam (Ativan®). Avoid taking benzodiazepines while taking prescription opioids whenever possible.

Pharmaceutical fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain reliever, approved for treating severe pain, typically advanced cancer pain. It is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. It is prescribed in the form of transdermal patches or lozenges and can be diverted for misuse and abuse in the United States. However, most recent cases of fentanyl-related harm, overdose, and death in the U.S. are linked to illegally made fentanyl. It is sold through illegal drug markets for its heroin-like effect. It is often mixed with heroin and/or cocaine as a combination product—with or without the user’s knowledge—to increase its euphoric effects. Overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone, which includes fentanyl, increased by 72% from 2014 to 2015. Roughly 9,500 people died from overdoses involving synthetic opioids other than methadone in 2015.

Reports from law enforcement indicate that much of the synthetic opioid overdose increase may be due to illegally or illicitly made fentanyl. According to data from the National Forensic Laboratory Information System, confiscations, or seizures, of fentanyl increased by nearly 7x from 2012 to 2014. There were 4,585 fentanyl confiscations in 2014.This suggests that the sharp rise in fentanyl-related deaths may be due to increased availability of illegally made, non-pharmaceutical fentanyl, and not prescribed fentanyl. Heroin use has increased sharply across the United States among men and women, most age groups, and all income levels. Some of the greatest increases occurred in demographic groups with historically low rates of heroin use: women, the privately insured, and people with higher incomes. Not only are people using heroin, they are also abusing multiple other substances, especially cocaine and prescription opioid pain relievers. Nearly all people who use heroin also use at least 1 other drug. As heroin use has increased, so have heroin-related overdose deaths. Between 2000 and 2015, the rate of heroin-related overdose deaths more than quadrupled, and more than 12,989 people died in 2015.

Who’s most at risk? People who are addicted to prescription opioid pain relievers – People who are addicted to cocaine -People without insurance or enrolled in Medicaid – Non-Hispanic whites – Males – People who are addicted to marijuana and alcohol – People living in a large metropolitan area – 18 to 25 year olds

What can be done? Plenty! Prevent people from starting heroin by reducing prescription opioid abuse. Improve opioid prescribing practices and help identify individuals at high risk early. Among new heroin users, about three out of four report abusing prescription opioids before using heroin. Ensure that people have access to integrated prevention services, including access to sterile injection equipment from a reliable source, as allowed by local policy. Reduce heroin addiction by ensuring access to Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT). Treat people addicted to heroin or prescription opioids with MAT which combines the use of medications (methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone) with counseling and behavioral therapies. People who are addicted to prescription opioids are 40 times more likely to also be addicted to heroin. Reverse heroin overdose by expanding the use of naloxone, a life-saving drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose when administered in time. Heroin overdose deaths more than quadrupled in the United States, 2002–2014.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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