There is often an image that people have of drug users and “addicts,” and it isn’t a favorable one. But the reality is, addiction can affect anyone from any walk of life. In fact, today’s opioid epidemic is made up of many people who started taking painkillers for legitimate reasons only to end up with an accidental addiction to opioids. It’s a scenario that has resulted in an increase in admissions to drug rehabs, thankfully. However, it’s also increased the number of opioid overdoses and deaths as well.
What Does the Current Opioid Epidemic Look Like?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), more than 130 people die each day in the U.S. after overdosing on opioids. The epidemic is a true crisis in the country that affects public health and economic and social welfare. The abuse and addiction to opioids – including both prescription painkillers and illicit drugs like heroin – costs the country an estimated $78.5 billion each year in lost productivity, healthcare, legal costs, and drug addiction treatment.
The number of deaths from opioid overdoses has steadily increased each year. In 2017, the number reached over 47,000 American who died as a result of opioid overdoses. Also in 2017, more than 1.7 million people were reported to suffer from addiction to prescription opioid painkillers and 652,000 from addiction to heroin.
How Did the Opioid Crisis Happen?
Today’s crisis with opioids isn’t only due to illicit drugs like heroin and synthetic fentanyl. The beginning of this crisis actually goes back a few decades and it happened quite “accidentally” for many people. In the early 1990s, treatment for pain began to change. Although the opiate painkiller morphine had been being prescribed for acute pain for a long time, doctors started to see that chronic pain was a serious condition that needed treatment. Pharmaceutical companies rose to the occasion and started marketing prescription opioids for the treatment of chronic pain.
While the short-term use of opioids for acute pain, like that following surgery, has been shown to be highly effective, there wasn’t any proof that long-term use of opioids for ongoing pain was effective. That didn’t stop drug manufacturers though, and the prescription of opioid painkillers became common and widespread.
As the use of opioid drugs continued to grow, and more and more prescriptions were written, more people gained access to the medications. Consequently, more people began to become dependent and addicted to prescription opioid drugs. Drug rehabs began to see more admissions for addiction to prescription drugs that were prescribed for legitimate reasons.
When Addiction to Opioids Becomes Illicit
When it started to become evident that people were becoming addicted to prescription drugs like OxyContin, Vicodin, and Fentanyl in large numbers, officials started to monitor and even restrict the prescription of these painkillers. Doctors slowed down and some even stopped issuing opioids to their patients.
Unfortunately, many were already addicted to the drugs. With the new restrictions, they weren’t able to refill prescriptions any longer. For some, that meant that they turned to obtaining their drugs on the streets with either illegal prescription drugs, or even worse, illicit street drugs like heroin.
Though this scenario is not consistent among all opioid users, it was the case for many. In a study reported on by the Journal of the American Medical Association, it was found that many prescription painkiller patients were moving on to heroin. Additionally, an analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2015 found that people who become addicted to painkillers are 40 times more likely to become addicted to heroin.
Drug Addiction Treatment for Opioid Addiction
For people who have become “accidentally addicted” to opioid drugs, there is a solution. Drug rehab centers have become well-versed in helping patients detox and recover from prescription opioids, so finding the right drug addiction treatment is possible.
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