The Opioid Crisis in America

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The opioid crisis in America remains unresolved. Indeed, the epidemic is now entering its third wave thanks to the menace of fentanyl.

Opioid can be natural (opiates), semi-synthetic (heroin and prescription painkillers), or synthetic (fentanyl). All types of opioids target and activate opioid receptors that occur naturally in the brain. Additionally, opioids reduce pain signaling between the body and brain, influencing how you respond to pain.

Opioids is an umbrella term used to describe:

  • Opioid painkillers like hydrocodone and oxycodone.
  • Heroin.
  • Morphine.
  • Opium.
  • Fentanyl.
  • Fentanyl analogs.

Most press attention during the opioid epidemic remains fixed on prescription painkillers, with over 10 million people misusing opioid prescriptions, and tens of thousands of U.S. citizens dying from opioid overdoses.

While prescription opioids are administered to relieve pain, this class of medication also delivers euphoric effects, leading to a high chance of abuse and dependence, as well as addiction in the form of opioid use disorder.

What Is the Opioid Crisis?

In the second half of the 1990s, pharmaceutical companies aggressively promoted opioid painkillers, reassuring the medical community that these medications were non-addictive and should be prescribed for more than relieving chronic pain in cancer patients. This led to healthcare providers throughout the United States prescribing opioid-based painkillers for the treatment of chronic pain conditions at increased rates.

As physicians wrote millions of prescriptions for opioid painkillers, widespread misuse and abuse of these medications became widespread. Assertions made by pharmaceutical firms about the non-addictive nature of opioids was proved false.

In 2017, HHS (U.S. Department of Health and Social Services) proclaimed the opioid crisis a public health emergency.

The passage of OCRA (Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018) was a move in the right direction to tackle opioid addiction in the U.S. OCRA reauthorized $500 million of annual funding to address opioid use disorder. The opioid crisis response act also expanded access to addiction treatment services.

From April 2020 to April 2021, over 75,000 U.S. citizens died from opioid overdoses.

Opioid addiction, and the abuse of opioid like fentanyl, heroin, and prescription painkillers remains a national crisis in 2022.

CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) estimates the annual economic burden of the opioid crisis to be almost $80 billion.

As well as the aggravating costs of the opioid epidemic, both financial and social, the other primary issues are:

  • Opioid overdoses.
  • Increase in transmission of infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis C.
  • Neonatal abstinence syndrome.

When Did the Opioid Crisis in America Begin?

Opioids were traditionally administered for the management of post-surgery pain and for pain relief in patients with terminal illnesses like late-stage cancer.

The origins of the opioid crisis in America can be traced to a 1980 letter to the editor of NEJM (New England Journal of Medicine). The author of the letter stated that only 4 patients became addicted to opioids from almost 12,000 prescribed opioids when hospitalized.

The widespread and uncritical citation of this letter perhaps acted as a spark that caused the opioid epidemic to engulf the United States in flames.

A minor 1986 study was also widely cited by people advocating the prescription of opioids for chronic pain management beyond cancer patients, despite involving just 38 participants. It is now accepted that the overinterpretation of this small study helped mold the false belief that opioids were only addictive if abused for non-medical purposes.

As the millennium approached, pharmaceutical companies in the United States were reassuring the medical community that opioid painkillers were neither addictive nor dangerous. Both claims were demonstrably false.

The opioid crisis was ignited by OxyContin (oxycodone in extended-release formulation). This medication is manufactured by Purdue Pharma.

Purdue Pharma and other pharmaceutical companies marketed their opioids products aggressively. These drug companies also sponsored medical-education courses and lobbied lawmakers. Purdue Pharma sent representatives to directly promote their products to physicians. Throughout this period, pharmaceutical companies continued to emphasize the safety and effectiveness of opioids, while also downplaying their potential for abuse and addiction.

It soon became clear that opioids are not particularly effective for the management of chronic pain. Tolerance to opioids rapidly forms, causing some patients to become more sensitive to pain as the effects of opioid diminish.

In a 2007 lawsuit, Purdue Pharma admitted to knowing that OxyContin was addictive but concealing this information. The company was fined over $600 million.

What Caused the U.S. Opioid Crisis?

There have been three phases to the opioid crisis in America:

  1. Prescription painkillers.
  2. Heroin.
  3. Synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

Purdue Pharma admitted their liability in triggering the U.S. opioid epidemic, so ending the debate on what caused this unresolved crisis.

Opioid Crisis Statistics

Sources for the following opioid statistics include NSDUH (National Survey on Drug Use and Health) and NCHS (National Center for Health Statistics) at CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

  • In 2020, there were over 100,000 fatal drug overdoses in the United States.
  • In that same year, over 16 million people abused prescription psychotherapeutics.
  • 9.2 million people misused prescription opioids.
  • 2.6 million U.S. adults were diagnosed with opioid use disorder in 2020.
  • 50,000 people first used heroin in 2020, often triggered by an inability to obtain opioid prescriptions.
  • In the year to June 2020, there were almost 15,000 heroin overdoses reported in the United.
  • Among those who used heroin, 80% reported previously abusing prescription opioids.
  • Up to 6% of those who misuse prescription opioids will subsequently use heroin.
  • 12% of those with opioid prescriptions will develop an addiction to opioids.
  • Almost one in three of those prescribed opioid painkillers to manage chronic pain will subsequently misuse the medication.
  • States, with 48,000 dying from overdoses involving synthetic opioids other than methadone.

Treatment for Opioid Addiction at Ohio Recovery Centers

Whether you are addicted to prescription opioids, heroin, or fentanyl, you can move beyond opioid addiction here at Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers.

Although opioids are fiercely addictive, medications like naltrexone, methadone, and buprenorphine are proven effective and approved by the FDA.

At our opioid addiction treatment center, you can access the following interventions:

  • MAT (medication-assisted treatment)
  • Psychotherapy
  • Counseling

We specialize in the outpatient treatment of opioid use disorder. Choose from an IOP (intensive outpatient program) or a PHP (partial hospitalization program) depending on the scope and severity of your opioid addiction.

At Ohio Recovery Centers, we also provide dual diagnosis treatment for those suffering from addictions with co-occurring mental health disorders.

Start your recovery here at Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers with a medical detox and then address the physical and psychological aspects of opioid addiction. Contact us online here or call (877) 679-2132 right away.

Table of Contents

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Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.
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Christopher Glover CDCA

My name is Christopher Glover, and I am from Cincinnati, Ohio. I am currently in school and working to grow in competence to better support our community. As a recovering individual I know the struggles that you or a loved one can go through and that there is help for anything you may be struggling with.

The hardest part is asking for help and we are here as a team to best support you and your decision to start your journey towards a better future. Connect with Chris on LinkedIn

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Amanda Kuchenberg PRS CDCA

I recently joined Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers as a Clinical Case Manager. I am originally from Wisconsin but settled in the Cincinnati area in my early 20s.  My career started in the fashion industry but quickly changed as I searched to find my drive and passion through helping others who struggle with addiction. 

As someone who is also in recovery, I wanted to provide hope, share lived experience, and support others on their journey.  I currently have my Peer Recovery Support Supervision Certification along with my CDCA and plan to continue my education with University of Cincinnati so I can continue to aid in the battle against substance addiction. Connect with Amanda on LinkedIn.

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Patrick McCamley LCDC III

 Patrick McCamley (Clinical Therapist) is a Cincinnati native who has worked in substance use disorder/co-occurring mental health disorder treatment since 2019. Patrick received his bachelors degree in psychology from University of Cincinnati in 2021 and received his LCDC III (Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor) license from the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board in 2022. Patrick has worked in Clinical Operations, Clinical Case Management, and Clinical Therapy throughout his career.

Patrick has tremendous empathy and compassion for the recovery community, being in recovery himself since 2018. Patrick is uniquely qualified to be helpful because of the specific combination of his academic background and his own experience in recovery.

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Bill Zimmerman CDCA

Bill Zimmerman is a Greater Cincinnati Area native who has worked in substance use disorder/co-occurring mental health disorder treatment since 2018. Bill received his (Chemical Dependency Counselor Assistant) license from the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board in 2020.

Bill has worked in Clinical Operations in both support and supervision, and Program facilitating and 12 step recovery support during his career. Bill has a passion for the recovery community, having been in recovery himself since 1982. Connect with Bill on LinkedIn

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Taylor Lilley CDCA, PRS

Growing up in Louisiana with addiction running rampant on both sides of my family. A life away from drugs and alcohol seemed impossible for someone like me. I remember what it was like sitting across from someone thinking there is no way they could ever understand what I was going through.

Sharing my experience offers a credibility and a certain type of trust with clients that only someone who has walked down this road can illustrate. To immerse myself further into the field of addiction, I am currently studying at Cincinnati State for Human and Social Services.  I hope I never forget where I came from, if I can do it, so can you!

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Thomas Hunter LSW

Hello my name is Thomas Hunter. I was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. I am a licensed social worker.In my scope of practice I have worked in the areas of mental health and recovery for thirty years. The clients I have worked with in my career have ranged in age from seven to seventy.

I strive each day to serve my purpose of helping those in need and I believe I do so by utilizing all of my experiences to accomplish my goal of supporting those who desire to establish their sobriety and maintain it in their recovery. Connect with Thomas on LinkedIn.

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Mary D.Porter,LICDC

 My name is Mary D. Porter. I received my Masters of Social Work in 2008 from The University of Cincinnati. I received My Licensed Independent Chemical Dependency Counselor Licensure in 2001. I retired from The Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center on April 14, 2014. Currently, I am the Associate Clinical Director for The Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers in Cincinnati.. Due to the fourth wave of the Opioid Epidemic in 2019,  I decided to enter back into the workforce to assist the addicted population.

The overdoses were astounding and I wanted to help.  I consider myself  to be an advocate for the addicted population. My compassion, resilience, empathy, wisdom, knowledge, experience and  love I have for this forgotten population goes beyond words. I consider what I do for the addicted population as a calling versus a “career,” because I too was once an “addict and alcoholic.” Today I am 45.5 years alcohol and substance free.

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Ben Lemmon LCDC III

Hello, my name is Ben Lemmon, and I’m the Vice President and Clinical Director at Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers. I’ve been working in the addiction and mental health field since 2013 and decided to enter the field after overcoming my own challenges with addiction.

When I first meet a client, I always explain to them that the reason we are meeting is because they are not capable of obtaining or maintaining sobriety, and my goal is to create a person that can maintain sobriety. I believe a person’s personality is made up of their thoughts, feelings and actions and my job is to help clients identify the thoughts, feelings and actions that have them disconnected from recovery and provide them with the tools to live a healthy and happy life. Connect with Ben on LinkedIn