The opioid epidemic, or opioid crisis, has struck the United States. The media often talk about it, but many don’t entirely know what it entails. The epidemic is about the increase in hospitalizations and deaths attributed to opioid use.
Opioids include prescription drugs, illegal drugs, and substances. The last fifteen years or so opioid use and overdoses have drastically escalated.
What Are Opioids?
Opioids are drugs that are made from opium. Opium is found in the poppy plant. Morphine is a popular pain reliever that you may have heard of that is made from opium. We made synthetic opioids from this and tried to develop different strengths for painkillers.
Most opioids were made with the intention of pain relief. Some have gone on for other uses while others have become illegal.
Examples of opioids you may have heard of:
Pharmaceutical companies wanted a way to make more money. They started pushing opioid painkillers at doctors. They wanted to start a market for synthetic opioids. The comparison would be that it was stronger than morphine or less addictive to morphine.
The companies also liked to claim there were not any side effects. This made the doctors feel like they were good to push at patients. So they started prescribing them more often. Which is what the pharmaceutical companies wanted. That is how there ended up being too many people being prescribed opioids too easily.
These prescriptions are what helped push the opioid epidemic to the level it is today.
Doctors would prescribe the opioids to patients thinking there were not any long term risks. Patients might take them for too long a time and become addicted or physically dependent. Then they might have to switch to a cheaper or easier alternative like heroin.
Opioid drugs are still overprescribed because we’ve gotten in the habit of immediately treating pain with them. If patients aren’t aware of the risks, they might take the drugs incorrectly and risk developing an addiction.
The efforts to fight the opioid crisis ended up just changing the problem, not fixing it. Doctors were made more aware of the issues of over-prescription. This didn’t change the fact that they already had patients who had developed an addiction.
These patients had to find different ways to keep from going through withdrawal. So they turned to heroin instead. Heroin is very addictive and more dangerous. When it is bought on the streets, it is often cut or laced with other drugs.
Not knowing what the heroin is mixed with can lead to overdoses and other problems. So the addiction would start in a doctor’s office, then worsen over time and when they had to turn to illegal drugs it became more dangerous.
The opioid crisis is still going strong despite attempts by the government to fight it. For long term changes there needs to be a complete overhaul of how our doctors prescribe opioid drugs.