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 513-757-5000 right away.

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