Viral Story: Drug Overdoses Have Tripled in the Last 6 Years

Viral Story: Drug Overdoses Have Tripled in the Last 6 YearsAs it currently stands, the U.S. is in the middle of an opioid epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, statistics show that overdose-related deaths in the U.S. has nearly tripled between the fifteen year period of 1999 and 2014, and is worsening still. Opioids in the form of powerful drugs including heroin and prescription painkillers like Vicodin, OxyContin, and Percocet, were largely to blame.

The data reveals that in 2014 alone, there were 47,055 drug overdose deaths. Opioids are to blame for about half of them. Moreover, the problem is not better – it’s worsening at a rate of about 16 percent a year, reported by the CDC.

Looking into the demographics of this uptick is also interesting. While opioid overdoses are still largely male, more and more women are falling subject to the addictive abuse as well. There was a staggering 117 percent increase of deaths from using these drugs among young women under the age of 24.

The Cause

The news is gravely disturbing, and something needs to change. The prominent factor behind the opioid epidemic is the basic fact that prescriptions for opioids in general have been rapidly increasing. Even though illegal drugs like heroin contribute to the overdose problem, a large population of heroin abusers actually start from prescription addictions.

SELF Magazine interviewed numerous medical professionals on this phenomenon to dive deeper into this medical crisis. Jason M. Jerry, M.D., an addiction specialist at the Cleveland Alcohol and Drug Recovery Center explained: “Most of our heroin addicts started with prescription narcotics. Maybe they had a car accident, their doctor gave them prescription narcotics, and they soon found that they liked the way that it made them feel.”

Afterwards, likely due to improper or lack of education on how to taper off the prescription, some people may seek out an illicit drug like heroin because it’s far cheaper than the prescription opioids.

CDC researchers agree, reporting that the misuse of prescription opioids can easily become a direct gateway someone to try illegal drugs: “Data have demonstrated that non-medical use of prescription opioids is a significant risk factor for heroin use, underscoring the need for continued prevention efforts around prescription opioids.”

Dr. Jennifer Wider, M.D. also lends her expertise analysis to say that during the same time frame from 1999 to 2014, the number of prescriptions for opioids nearly quadruped. Opioids are used to treat pain, thus prescription rates are the highest among pain medicine specialists, surgeons, and physical rehabilitation specialists. However, primary care physicians do account for almost half of opioid pain reliever prescriptions also, flagging the need for a complete awareness shift in the medical community.

“Doctors need to better educate patients on the risks of these medications and perhaps reserve them for severe pain cases,” Wider said. There is also a need to educate people on when and how to taper off of prescription opioids, Wider says. Failure to do so, or to do so the right way, can increase a person’s risk of addiction. “They are dangerous medications with a high addictive potential,” Wider says.

Finding a Solution

More people are getting prescribed opioids, leading to a trend shift in more people becoming addicted to opioids and then experimenting beyond with illegal narcotics. The country has not been able to keep up with the growing issue. Institutions, private and public alike, are racing to find a fitting method to address the crisis.

Looking to the government for assistance is a convoluted option. Linda Richter, Ph.D., director of policy research and analysis at The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, relayed: “There are effective medications to treat opioid addiction, but medication-assisted treatment is not available to most people who could benefit from it.”

Public policy is in the process of changing help make these medications more available, but there has been push back out of fear of replacing one drug addition with another, explains Richter. Providing medications to treat people who are addicted to prescription and illegal opioid drugs is a highly controversial topic. Besides a theoretical debate, there also simply aren’t enough doctors who are eligible to prescribe medication-assisted treatment in the first place. Proper management and treatment planning for such patients is already a very grey area in the medical world.

General policy that would curb the supply and availability of prescription pain medications is another option, but at this point may backfire to further redirect people who are already addicted to prescription painkillers towards turning to heroin and illegal synthetic opioids.

With no clear or obvious outline solution for taking on the opioid epidemic as of just yet in sight, it’s clear that the dependence lies mostly on the existing medical community. The doctors who can prescribe opioids must be mindful and thorough in their engagements with their patients from start to finish. There is a huge opportunity to intervene: before starting prescription painkillers in the first place. As addiction is a very long and difficult road once established, it is important for the medical community to realize that medication should always be last resort.

Did you know an addiction can be caused by a mental disorder?

One of the primary reasons that mental disorders and substance abuse so often go hand-in-hand is that drugs and alcohol can provide an escape from the pressures of mental health problems. Self-medicating is surprisingly common: you’re not alone.

But unlike real, effective, long-term solutions, such as medication and detoxification in a treatment center, drugs and alcohol won’t amount to effective treatment.

If you suspect that your loved one is suffering from addiction, then take our free 3 minute assessment.


More on the topic of: