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The Opioid Epidemic in America – How It All Started

The Opioid Epidemic in America – How It All Started

What Is the Opioid Epidemic?

The United States is currently facing an opioid epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 130 Americans die daily from an opioid overdose.

Patients misusing prescription opioids is what led to the opioid epidemic. In the 1990s, medical professionals were assured that certain powerful prescription opioids were safe for patients to consume. Armed with this information, doctors went ahead and prescribed the pharmaceuticals at greater rates. Doctors, however, underestimated the addictive power of the new medications.

The situation is in its second decade. One of the reasons why the epidemic has lasted this long is because medical professionals were unaware of what was really happening. Today, thanks to advances in technology and the improved understanding of medical data, the medical field has a better grasp of the situation. They have also begun developing action plans in conjunction with state and local governments.

These action plans include several options at the local and state levels. Private rehabilitation facilities that focus on helping those struggling with opioid addiction are also readily at the disposal of the public. To understand the evolution of the epidemic, the following covers some of the main points to consider.

What Are Opioids?

The term “opioid” refers to a classification of pain-relieving drugs. The classification includes both prescription and illicit substances. They include:

• Oxycodone (OxyContin®)
• Hydrocodone (Vicodin®)
• Codeine
• Morphine
• Heroin
• Fentanyl
• Methadone
• Morphine

The addictive side-effects of these opioids come from the way the chemical in the drugs interacts with the patient’s brain and nerves. Since the goal is to relieve pain, opioids create a sense of euphoria. They work well when consumed as recommended by a doctor. When they are taken in larger doses or for longer periods of time, however, a patient can get themselves into a bad situation that leads to dependence.

Cities, counties and towns have started to take a proactive approach to the epidemic. Government officials have noticed the deterioration of their geographic area that occurs when their residents fall into addiction.

Initiatives have been set up to establish emergency dispensaries of naloxone. Naloxone, when administered in a timely manner, can reverse the effects of opioids. Buprenorphine and naltrexone are other solutions that may be administered to patients experiencing an opioid overdose.

How the Opioid Epidemic Started

The CDC estimates that at least 702,000 people died due to a drug overdose from 1999 to 2017. It is estimated that at least 70,000 people died from a drug overdose in 2017 alone. This made overdose the leading cause of injury-related death for Americans.

Of those deaths in 2017, medical professionals found that 68% involved a prescription or illicit opioid. Additionally, the number of opioid-related deaths in 2017 was six times higher than in 1999, a fact that shows the epidemic was not an overnight phenomenon. It did lead the federal medical-related agencies to declare a public health crisis, though. After a public health crisis was declared, the medical field concluded that the epidemic came to be in three waves.

The First Wave

Those in the medical field who have studied this epidemic have dated the first wave back to 1999. In the 1990s, doctors began to prescribe powerful opioids to patients who needed a solution for the pain they were experiencing.

These doctors typically prescribed medication unaware of the dangerous potential for addiction. Documentation shows that the pharmaceutical companies reassured doctors that the opioids were safe for consumption.

The Second Wave

In 2010, the data that was gathered by hospitals and emergency rooms showed there was a spike in heroin-related deaths and car accidents. At that time, the medical field did not make a connection between prescription opioids and the increase in heroin use.

As they dug into the numbers from 2002-2012, however, medical professionals began to realize that many of those who were abusing heroin had prior use of prescription opioids. One study of heroin users in an urban area from 2008-09 found that 86% of them had been prescribed opioids before they began abusing heroin.

This was confounding to researchers because professionals had been previously relying on heroin data from the 1960s. That data showed the opposite progression in drug use from heroin to prescription medications rather than the reverse. To help heroin users overcome their addiction, many were prescribed opioids. In fact, at that time, 80% of patients started with heroin before moving on to prescription opioids.

The Third Wave

The third wave of the opioid epidemic is believed to have started in 2013. This is when the medical field began to notice that drug overdose deaths were frequently involving synthetic opioids, which is still the case today. The main culprit for the increase in deaths has been fentanyl.

Pharmaceutical fentanyl is an approved synthetic opioid used for pain relief. The issue that has arisen is its potency. Prescription fentanyl is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, which is why it has been so misused in the United States.

While standard fentanyl already poses a major addiction risk, illicitly-manufactured fentanyl, or IMF, is another problem altogether. The formula for IMF changes, so it has been difficult for the medical field, government officials and first responders to keep up with the problem. Usually, it is concocted from a combination of heroin, counterfeit pills and cocaine. Since the formula changes, naloxone is not always as effective as it once was in reversing overdoses.

How the Opioid Epidemic Is Different

Substance addiction is not something new for the United States. There have been bouts of alcoholism that saw several deaths. There was also a time when cocaine was the substance of choice for many. The difference between the opioid epidemic and other addictions is the alarming rates of death that are occurring.

There were 52,404 deaths from drug overdoses in the United States in 2015. At least 20,000 were from prescription pain relievers. It is estimated that 13,000 were from heroin. The data show that 63% of drug deaths involved opioids. In 2016, there was an increase of almost 10,000.

What has been disturbing for the medical community as well as for government officials at all levels is the realization that many of the deaths during the epidemic are from prescriptions. With heroin and cocaine, people used to find a dealer and purchase these illegal substances. Many opioids, on the other hand, are legal and given to patients by their doctor.

Who the Opioid Epidemic Affects

Anyone can be impacted by the opioid epidemic. Since many opioids are prescribed to patients by their doctors, there are no barriers to access. Insurance often covers at least a portion of the cost of the medication, so payment is not usually an issue. Once a patient becomes addicted, the drive to get more can be hard to stop. This drive leads many people to turn to illegal substances such as heroin.

Why You Should Get Help

Those experiencing addiction to an opioid should know, first and foremost, that they are not alone. There are plenty of people who need help with this issue. Getting help requires the person experiencing addiction to admit that they have a problem. Thereafter, it is about finding the best road to recovery.

There are several reasons why someone suffering from an addiction should get help. Getting help means that patients can be put on a path toward regaining their lives. As an addict, most have a difficult time keeping up with their responsibilities such as going to work, maintaining relationships and being a productive citizen.

Getting help can be as easy as calling a hotline in your geographic area that connects you to a medical professional. You can also drop by a center that provides treatment to request information.

Types of Treatment

As the medical field continues to improve its understanding of the epidemic, several treatment options have been developed. The tried-and-true options also continue to be offered. Types of treatment include:

• Long-term residential treatment
• Short-term residential treatment
• Outpatient treatment programs
• Individualized drug counseling
• Group counseling

Detoxification is the first step. In order to move forward, a patient’s substance of choice has to be out of their body and system.

Depending on the severity of the addiction as well as the length of time a person has been addicted, detox can be a shock. The medical staff at facilities such as Green Mountain Treatment Center and New Freedom Academy, however, are trained to help patients through this important process. With their help, you can be confident that you will not be alone when you need the most assistance.

Private Rehabilitation

For some patients, entering a private rehabilitation program makes the most sense. Sometimes, the only way to overcome an addiction is to be away from the environment that caused it in the first place. Other times having the help of trained staff is important.

Private centers also offer a host of amenities and education programs to their patients. The amenities are wonderful for reducing stress, which makes rehabilitation more bearable. This is also a patient’s opportunity to enjoy nutritious meals and exercise. The education programs are where patients re-learn how to live in a sober manner. They are also a place where vital life skills are taught.

A facility such as Green Mountain Treatment Center, for example, is situated in Effingham, NH. It is located in the mountains on a spacious property that is surrounded by nature. This center offers:

• Individualized treatment plans
• Medical detox
• A 12-Step curriculum
• Holistic therapies
• A scenic and secluded location
• An on-site gym
• Transportation as needed
• Gender-separate programs and accommodations

The New Freedom Academy is located in Canterbury, NH. It is a 20-bed facility that features a low client-to-clinician and low staff-to-client ratio. The center sits on 17 private wooded acres that provide seclusion and beautiful views of nature. It offers:

• Clinical psychotherapeutic support
• Treatment for co-occurring mental disorders
• Holistic therapies
• Process groups
• Access to weekly off-site family recovery workshops
• Nutritious chef-prepared meals
• Meditation and yoga
• Paintball, bowling and mini-golf outings

The opioid epidemic in the United States has caught the medical field off-guard. The good news is that addiction professionals have gathered the data and are working to understand the issue at hand as quickly as possible. Several short- and long-term solutions are available to those seeking help. At Green Mountain Treatment Center and New Freedom Academy, we can help you if you are struggling with opioid addiction. Our professional staff is always available to help you through your path to recovery. Contact us today get started.