The Opioid Epidemic and Why It Matters

Recently, findings from the National Vital Statistics Reports have shown just how dire America’s opioid epidemic is. Men are now dying from opioid overdoses close to three times more than women. The rate of opioid overdose deaths for young adults between the ages of 25 and 34 has also increased significantly. All of which has led from over 1000 deaths in 2011 to 18,335 in 2016. And that death rate is still rising.

According to the CDC, these deaths are attributed to at least one opioid called fentanyl. But these waves of opioid deaths are only the latest coming from a wave that started way back in the ‘90s with the opioid oxycodone.

When the statistics on the deaths from those opioids alongside others are tallied up, they add up to over 700,000 deaths.

Faced with these awful facts, you might find yourself wondering about a few things, such as, how did we get to this high a death rate? What started this epidemic? Or maybe, what even is this epidemic? Why haven’t I heard more about this?

This epidemic is a severe issue plaguing America, and you deserve to know what’s going on. So this article aims to give you the most critical facts on this crisis and how it could affect you.

What is an opioid?

An opioid is a specific class of drug that is meant to relieve people from pain. Part of this class includes:

  • Heroin, the illegal street drug
  • Synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl
  • Well-known legal opioids, such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, and morphine
  • A number of other drugs

What is the opioid epidemic?

The opioid epidemic is an ongoing trend of deaths caused by opioid abuse happening in America.

While such deaths don’t seem too shocking considering that drug abuse is a well-known issue, opioids are currently causing over 130 people to die each day in America. It’s quite a high number, so you might be wondering how we got to this point.

Well, the opioid epidemic is a complex issue that requires a thorough look into America’s pharmaceutical history.

Why is there now a third wave?

The opioid epidemic has evolved in waves. To see how it got to the third wave, let’s learn how the epidemic evolved over time.

How It Started

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the original wave began in the late ‘90s. At the time, some pharmaceutical companies, such as Purdue Pharma, started producing prescription opioid pain relievers. While doing so, they reassured health-care professionals that their patients would not become addicted to this new form of pain relief.

Today, when we know opioids can include drugs like heroin, these reassurances seem ridiculous. But back then, this was more believable because it was not as well-known how addictive prescription opioid pain relievers could be.

So, with the pharmaceutical companies’ blessing, these pain relievers became widespread. Thousands upon thousands of people were introduced to a new kind of high through legal means. And opioid overdose rates started to increase.

The Second Wave

By 2010, the second wave had started. And with it, there came an increasing rate of death from heroin.

Why?

Well, as the current lawsuit filed against Purdue Pharma states, prescription opioid pain relievers like Purdue Pharma’s OxyContin, otherwise known as oxycodone, have an active ingredient that is nearly identical to heroin. So, what do people do when they fall into situations where they can’t afford their prescriptions and have become addicted to them? They turn to more affordable sources that aren’t always legal. And being nearly identical to what they would have bought legally, heroin would naturally be the choice form of addiction.

In fact, according to government statistics, using prescription opioids was one of the stronger risk factors for starting heroin use. This led to at least 63,632 deaths from heroin overdosing in 2016.

The Current Wave

While those heroin overdose deaths continued, a new trend began: our current epidemic, the third wave.

Beginning in 2013, the third wave of opioid abuse came from overdosing on synthetic opioids. More specifically, it came from illegally produced fentanyl.

50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, fentanyl was and still is incredibly addictive. And it was likely another step down the drug abuse cycle for those who were just starting and those who already had an addiction to opioids.

How does this epidemic affect me?

So, you might be thinking this drug abuse sounds awful but has nothing to do with you. You’ve never taken part in illegal substances or have even wanted to. After all, that’s something for people with problems, right?

Well, that sentiment isn’t exactly true, especially when you realize that the start of this epidemic came from a fully legal substance prescribed to treat legitimate medical problems. Anyone can get addicted. It just depends on the situation.

More importantly, this epidemic makes one significant issue very clear: there’s a lack of transparency from some pharmaceutical companies. According to NPR, companies like Purdue Pharma actually knew how addictive their pain relievers were. In fact, they were banking on this fact to make them money.

NPR reports that these companies wanted to get as many customers addicted as possible to keep their sales going strong. The companies are said to have trained sales representatives to deceive doctors, nurses, and pharmacists about how safe their prescription drug oxycodone was. These representatives were then judged by how many opioids they got doctors to prescribe. Those who didn’t prescribe enough were supposedly fired. As this situation continued, Purdue Pharma made a hefty profit.

This controversy should be worrying to everyone, including yourself.

Every American has the right to know how safe a substance is. No amount of profit should be worth the cost of human lives.

What can I do about it?

Luckily, there is already a lawsuit going on surrounding this epidemic, which should reduce the chances of such a tragedy reoccurring. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be careful.

The best thing you can do is to make sure you remain as well-informed as possible. So if you have any drugs you’ve been prescribed, research them on reputable websites like Drugs.com. Try to determine the reputation of the company that’s produced the drugs. Lastly, check authentic resources like the CDC and Kaiser Health News for any recent updates on potential pharmaceutical mishaps.

DISCLAIMER: The content in this article is intended for informational purposes only. This website does not provide medical advice. In all circumstances, you should always seek the advice of your physician and/or other qualified health professionals(s) for drug, medical condition, or treatment advice. The content provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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