Headlines across the United States are rampant with news about the “Opioid Crisis.” The deaths involved with opioid overdose are staggering, hence the terms “crisis” and “epidemic.” In this article I answer the 4 basic questions on everyones minds.
What is an Opioid?
What exactly is an opioid or opiate? According to Inaba and Cohen, an opiate is “a refined from or synthetic version of the opium poppy’s active ingredients and include opium, morphine, codeine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, methyl morphine, methadone and heroin” (Inaba and Cohen, 2014, p4.2). When speaking of the opioid crisis often times people imagine those who are doing illegal street drugs, with IV’s stuck in their veins. Nothing could be further from the truth. While heroin and opium (street drugs) are a problem, the core of opiate addiction lies in prescription drug abuse. In fact, more people die from overdosing on hydrocodone, oxycodone, and methadone than heroin each year (Inaba and Cohen, 2014).
What are the numbers?
Since the year 2000, over 300,000 Americans have died from overdoses involving opioids” (Office of the Press Secretary, 2017).
It is estimated that in 2017, the opioid epidemic kills 90 Americans every day.
In 2015, more than 52,404 deaths in the United States were due to drug overdoses, of which 63% involved an opioid.
In addition to the death toll, opioids have more Americans addicted than ever before. In fact, “in 2016, more than 11.5 million Americans ages 12 and older reported misuse of prescription opioids in the past year, and nearly 950,000 Americans reported heroin use in the past year” (Office of the Press Secretary, 2017).
What is the government doing about the opioid crisis?
The nation is struggling so much with its addiction to opioids that the President has gotten involved. In October of 2017, President Trump has declared a Nationwide Public Health Emergency in response to the opioid crisis.
According to NY Times, Mr. Trump said his plan would include a requirement that federally employed prescribers be trained in safe practices for opioid prescriptions, and a new federal initiative to develop nonaddictive painkillers, as well as intensified efforts to block shipments of fentanyl, a cheap and extremely potent synthetic opioid manufactured in China, into the United States.” (Davis, 2017).
Here’s the problem. They declared the Nationwide Public Health Emergency without requesting additional funds to campaign treatment of the opioid crisis. The aim at the media attention appears to be more of a “Just Say No” campaign than an actual treatment plan.
How is opioid addiction treated?
The most common method of treating heroin is methadone. Burpenorphine is also used, and pharmaceutical heroin is being discussed. While the withdrawals of opiates are painful and miserable, they are considered to be non lethal. Treatment for opiate addiction can be accomplished without adding fuel to the fire.
Methadone is used to curb physical withdrawal symptoms in heroin and opiate users. It acts as an interrupter for the reward system in the brain of the addicted. Methadone is obtained through clinics, it is highly controlled, and it also has addictive properties. Methadone blocks withdrawal symptoms for 24 hours. It is also costly, and people have overdosed on it as well, as the clients aren’t screened for all substances prior to administration.
Buprenorphine is both an opioid agonist and antagonist. It works as a pain medication as an alternative to morphine at small doses, and at larger doses it blocks the opioid receptors (Inaba and Cohen, 2014). It is used as an alternative detoxification medication to methadone. This medication can be dispensed in a doctor’s office. But again, it is costly and reports show it is not as effective as methadone.
Also, in the opioid antagonist category is naloxone (Narcan). This is used for opioid drug overdose, but often times must be re administered as the user may slip back into a coma (Inaba and Cohen, 2014). There is a move to push the availability of naloxone as a nonprescription drug (Inaba and Cohen, 2014).
Underneath the opioid crisis lies an issue of greed. The manufacturers continue to profit, as do the doctors that prescribe the medications, and even the government and politicians that run this nation benefit from big pharmaceutical companies that lobby to them. Long term pain management by opioids has shown to destroy muscle tissue, and the treatment for the dependence of the substance is more opioids. Catch my drift here? Until corrupt people stop benefiting from providing opiates to the masses, the crisis will continue.
The opioid crisis will resolve itself when those in power decide that the death toll, and the addiction factor is more important than the idolization of money and medication.
Inaba, D. S., & Cohen, W. E. (2014). Uppers, downers, all arounders: Physical and mental effects of psychoactive drugs (8th ed.). Medford, OR: CNS Productions, Inc. ISBN: 9780926544390.
Office of the Press Secretary (2017). “President Donald J. Trump is Taking Action on Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis” The White House. Retrieved from: https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/10/26/president-donald-j-trump-taking-action-drug-addiction-and-opioid-crisis Accessed on 12/5/2017