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Opioid Crisis

The rapid and destructive increase in the use of prescription and non-prescription opioid drugs

Opioid Crisis

The opioid crisis in the US has been labeled an epidemic. Although it began in the 1990s, there have been recent waves of the crisis that led to the Department of Health and Human Services declaring a public health emergency in 2017.

As well as addressing the increasing numbers of overdoses, we’re here to look at factors that worsen and improve the situation. These include care, drug production, monitoring, intervention, and prevention.

What Are Opioids?

The term opioid covers a broad range of drugs that provide pain relief. Some are related to the original drug, opium, that’s made from the poppy plant, such as morphine. Others are synthesized in the lab, like fentanyl.

Many of these drugs are effective but can be dangerous if misused. There are legal prescription versions and illicit drugs, such as heroin, that fit into the opioids category. The market for licitly manufactured fentanyl has had an impact on the number of synthetic opioid-related deaths.

Opioid Crisis Statistics

While the impacts of opioid addiction and death can have incalculable impacts on friends, family members, and the individuals themselves, to address the crisis as a whole, it’s helpful to see the scale of the problem.

  • 136 people die each day from an opioid overdose 
  • More than 10 million people misused prescription opioids in 2020
  • 70, 630 people died from a drug overdose in 2019
  • 745,000 people used heroin in 2019
  • 50,000 people used heroin for the first time in 2019

Prescription Drug Misuse

Although illicit drug use is a significant part of the crisis, the addictive nature of opioids means that prescription drug misuse also plays a role. The majority of people don’t misuse prescription drugs.

Understanding the reasons behind the misuse of pain relievers can help inform policy. Miuses can include taking more often than recommended, in greater amounts, or in any way that doesn’t follow the doctor’s directions.

The most common reason for misusing opioids is pain relief; less common reasons include:

  • To feel good
  • To relax
  • To help with sleep
  • To cope with emotions
  • Feeling the need that they have to have the drug
  • Experimentation

Interventions and Prevention

Intervention and prevention methods are required for illicit drug use and prescription misuse. Both can lead to addiction, overdose, and death. Understanding the specific trends in the opioid crisis can help us understand where the most targeted interventions are required.

Some key areas for work are set out below; in all aspects, collaboration is vital.

Public Safety Information

Information can be used to prevent the misconception that there isn’t any risk when misusing legal prescription drugs. The dangers of increased dosage or more frequent dosing can be made clearer by doctors when prescribing a pain reliever.

Within the Healthcare System

Guidance, tools, and data need to be provided to those within the healthcare system to help them evaluate and reevaluate the instances when they prescribe opioids. Treating overdoses and referring for treatment for illicit and prescription drugs is also critical.

Addiction Treatment

Addiction treatment falls under the remit of public safety officials, law enforcement, and health providers and needs to be accessible in the community. It could include centers, counseling, and mental and public health organizations at state and local levels.

Sources:

https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/index.html#:~:text=The%20number%20of%20drug%20overdose,rates%20increased%20by%20over%206%25

https://www.hhs.gov/opioids/about-the-epidemic/index.html 

https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/report_3210/ShortReport-3210.html 

https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/us-opioid-epidemic

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02686-2

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