Health Column: Opioid Crisis in America

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The United States is currently facing one of the worst opioid crises in history. Roughly two million people across America suffer from opioid addiction, and that number continues to increase dramatically each day.  On average, 200 Americans are dying each day from opioid overdoses, which is more than those dying from breast cancer, gun violence or car accidents.

The epidemic has arose from availability. Opioids are highly potent painkillers often used after major surgeries or traumas. They can depress the central nervous system and if used in large amounts can stop the heart and breathing. Many doctors prescribe them in such high quantities that many individuals have leftover pills even after they have healed from surgery.

It was found that four out of five Americans addicted to heroin were abusers of opioids such as Oxycodone and Hydrocodone.  It should come as no surprise that as the number of prescription opioids increases so does the number of people addicted to heroin. Since 2002 the number of heroin addicts has risen by 500 percent.

As opioid addiction rises, it becomes difficult to save people from drug overdoses. Those that turn to the black market for drugs are often not buying pure oxycodone, hydrocodone or heroin. Drug dealers may cut the drug with other drugs in order to cheapen their product and make profit by charging the price of the pure drugs.

As a result, if an individual overdoses, standard anti-overdose drugs such as narcan do not work because they are formulated to work specifically for standard opioids–not the drugs that they are cut with. Health professionals, therefore, have no idea what someone has overdosed on and have a difficult time trying to save people who make it to hospital.

The American ideology about pain has drastically changed from the beginning of the 20th century. Morphine was created before WWI and was the drug of choice used in the war. However, many soldiers came back addicted. Pain management and drugs became taboo up until the 80s, when drug company lobbyists began promoting opioids. As a result, American views regarding pain medication changed.

The Trump Administration, particularly First Lady Melania Trump, has raised awareness about the drug epidemic and pushed for legislation and programs aimed at attempting to get the opioid crisis under control.

Photo courtesy of The Milwaukee Independent.

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