The Opidemic Sweeping the Nation
99% of doctors are prescribing potentially addictive pain killers to individuals for more than the 3 days recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Opioid prescriptions are prescribed almost four times more than they were in 1999. There is absolutely no reason for that steep of an increase in opioid prescriptions. Physicians prescribe opioids now for pain such as lower back or dental which can lead to long-term opioid use. Opioids are highly addictive and physicians should avoid prescribing them as much as they can. However, they are often not going deep enough into the patients' information to see if there has been a proxy for addiction or if there is a family history of drug abuse. There are other medications that are non-addictive that are often overlooked by physicians that could be used as a substitute for an opioid. However, the problem also lies in the hands of current insurance companies; many insurance companies do not cover non-pharmaceutical interventions such as massage therapy or acupuncture.
The Upwards Trend
Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illicit drug heroin as well as the licit prescription pain relievers oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, fentanyl and others. There has been 52,404 lethal drug overdoses in 2015, Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 20,101 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers, and 12,990 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2015.1
80% of heroin users started with being prescribed some type of opioid from a physician. 94% of respondents in a 2014 survey of people in treatment for opioid addiction said they chose to use heroin because prescription opioids were “far more expensive and harder to obtain.” 2
This Opidemic is sweeping across our country and breaking apart families and cities. We need to work as a nation to control this opioid problem and get ahead of it while we still can. Long-term opioid use changes the way nerve cells work in the brain. This happens even to people who take opioids for a long time to treat chronic pain, as prescribed by their doctor. The nerve cells grow used to having opioids around, so that when they are taken away suddenly, the person can have lots of unpleasant feelings and reactions. These are known as withdrawal symptoms. Opioids need to be watched closely by the patient’s physician. The patient needs to be informed by the doctor when and as well as how to stop taking opioids so the patients limit their chances of having withdrawals. People who continue taking opioids eventually lose the feeling of being satisfied by all pleasurable things(such as candy, TV, or even a walk on a beach).
Knowledge Is Key
The chemical structures between Heroin, Oxycodone and Morphine are all too similar. They are all highly addictive and that CANNOT be stressed enough. Especially in adolescents and young adults it’s important to understand the risks of being on opioids before taking them. If there is a family history of drug abuse or if the individual has habitual tendencies, then it is best to stay away from highly addictive opioids. Opioids are not made to be taken long-term and when they are taken long-term it often causes miserable effects and can eventually lead to death. When somebody takes an opioid long-term the dosage needs to be increased as time goes by to get the same desired effect. This gets very dangerous when the patient starts reaching lethal doses.
The Story of Andrew Gintis
Drew began wrestling his freshman year of high school. As a novice to the sport, his wrestling record his freshman year was 1-21; his one win was a forfeit. Yet, he was determined to improve and dedicated to advancing his skills. By his junior year, he was team captain with a 21-2 record with hopes to go to states. Wrestling became the arena in which he was the team star. At the beginning of his senior year, Drew suffered a shoulder injury, and although he tried to continue competing, his injury was too severe. No longer a wrestler, he lost his confidence and his identity.
He was prescribed opiates to manage his shoulder pain, and, due to the addictive nature of these drugs, developed an opioid use disorder. After his prescription ran out, he began to seek opiates in other ways, through searching our medicine cabinets and the cabinets of friends. Eventually, he transitioned to using heroin, as it is cheaper and easier to access. Three years and countless treatment facilities later, he suffered a fatal overdose due to fentanyl, a synthetic opioid similar to heroin but, according to the Center for Disease Control, is 50 times more potent.
This story is heartbreaking and what makes it worse is there are so many other families that have also lost loved ones by the use of opiates. In the past year and a half, the mother and father of Andrew have been to seven funerals due to opioid overdose. A lot of these opioid deaths that happen are completely preventable. It is so important to understand the dangers of opioids and all the havoc that has unfolded because of them.
Prescription Opioids Are Heroin
1 Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2016). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (HHS Publication No. SMA 16-4984, NSDUH Series H-51). Retrieved from http://www.samhsa.gov/data/.
2 Cicero TJ, Ellis MS, Surratt HL, Kurtz SP. The changing face of heroin use in the United States: a retrospective analysis of the past 50 years. JAMA Psychiatry. 2014;71(7):821-826.