The media and legislators are trying to figure out the opioid addiction epidemic in America. And with good reason. As The American Society of Addiction Medicine now reports:
“Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US, with 47,055 lethal drug overdoses in 2014. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic. There were 18,893 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers,. And 10,574 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2014.*”
What Exactly Are Opioids?
Organic opioids (e.g. morphine) come from the poppy plant. And, about 80% comes from Afghanistan. Semi-synthetic opiates are processed to make heroin, Hydrocodone, and Oxycodone. So, you know these as Lorcet, Norco, Vicodin, Dilaudid, Opana, Palladone, Endocet, Oxycontin, Percoset, Tylox, and others. Synthetic, or man-made opiates include Fentanyl, Meperidine, Tramadol, and others. And, you know these as prescription drugs such as the pain relievers Darvon, Popoxyphene, Duragesic, Fentora, Haldid, Sublimaze, Demerol, and others. Fentanyl is recently in the news as being responsible for many overdoses (including Prince’s). Fentanyl is extremely dangerous. In fact, it is 50 to 100 times more powerful than heroin or morphine.
What Do Opioids Do?
Opioids interact with opioid receptors on nerve cells in the brain and nervous system. Thus, they relieve pain and produce pleasurable / euphoric effects. Unfortunately, they carry a high potential for abuse. And, opioids are extremely addictive. Then, users build tolerance quickly and the euphoric effects fade. Subsequently, addicts take ever-increasing doses, chasing that euphoric high.
How Does It Happen?
Every day more Americans are becoming opiate addicts. In fact, a single prescription of an opiate pain reliever for something as common as a sprained ankle can lead to opiate addiction. Once addicted, many users cannot afford to sustain their habit with expensive prescription drugs. So, they trade down to the more affordable alternative, heroin.
For perspective, prescription drug abuse now outpaces cocaine as the second-most-widely abused drug class. Second only to marijuana. And even more startling, prescription drug overdose now claims more lives each year than guns or automobile accidents. http://wonder.cdc.gov/mortsql.html. The American Medical Association estimates that 78 people die each day from opioid abuse.
What Is Opiate Addiction Like?
I was recently invited by the FBI to view a film they produced with the DEA on opioid addiction. Fair warning: parts of the film show the harsh reality of America’s opioid addiction epidemic. Therefore, this film is not for the squeamish. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dmLj5ONhazk
What You Can Do About The Opiate Addiction Epidemic
- Educate yourself and your family about the dangers of opioid abuse.
- Encourage your community’s schools to educate students about drug abuse.
- Have your employer adopt a Drug Free Workplace policy.
- Support your local law enforcement.
- Vote for anti-drug candidates and propositions.
- Keep your opoiod prescriptions locked up.
- Only take the minimal amount of opioid prescriptions.
- Dispose of all unused medications properly. http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm101653.htm
*Center for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics System, Mortality File. (2015). Number and Age-Adjusted Rates of Drug-poisoning Deaths Involving Opioid Analgesics and Heroin: United States, 2000–2014. Atlanta, GA: Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/health_policy/AADR_drug_poisoning_involving_OA_Heroin_US_2000- 2014.pdf.