Many people today are well aware of the dangers of abusing prescription medication, yet America’s opioid epidemic continues to thrive on the millions of individuals that depend on this medication to find pain relief, or comfort. Today, drug overdoses have become the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, and it is expected to worsen with time.
Though this epidemic is spread throughout the country, Las Vegas and the entire state of Nevada have been found to have the fourth highest rate of drug overdose deaths. Opioids are continuing to be prescribed in a careless manner, and until healthcare providers begin to exercise caution, Americans will remain at a constant risk of becoming addicted to the very same medications meant to help them.
To better understand why the epidemic has become so unrelenting, it’s best to look at the science of it all first. Opioids stimulate the brain’s opiate receptors, much like heroin and morphine. Their effects are greatly enhanced when taken via less traditional methods of consumption, like snorting or injecting the crushed substances. The most commonly prescribed opioids, hydrocodone and oxycodone, are considered semi-synthetic due to being synthesized with opium, much like heroin.
Medical professionals often prescribe opioids in the event of a major surgery or serious accident. While they can be helpful in this sense, allowing patients to take them any longer than the allotted recovery time would be careless. Even more disconcerting is the fact that these are very commonly prescribed for much less significant health issues, like regular back or joint pain. It’s cases like this that lead to more harm than good due to long term use, and eventual addiction.
With all that being said, doctors are not entirely to blame for the country’s opioid crisis. It seemed to begin when a number of pharmaceutical companies launched a campaign that downplayed the risks of opioid use, and falsely detailed the ‘many benefits’ that come with long term use, when in reality, overuse can worsen health problems.
The rise in overdose deaths from opioid began to slow in 2011, which then led to an increase in overdose deaths caused by heroin. Though the theory exists that those addicted to opioids essentially switched to heroin due to its price and obtainability, that is only somewhat true. It wasn’t until 2013 that medical examiners began to test for the presence of fentanyl in patients who had overdosed on heroin, which indicated that fentanyl was killing more individuals via overdose than heroin.
Today, the United States’ opioid consumption is considerably higher than that of our European neighbors, clearly showing that healthcare professionals in America must be much more prudent when prescribing these medications. A contributing factor is the lack of access to addiction treatment many Americans face, forcing them to rely upon the opioids, which are much easier to access. Until this is sternly addressed by the medical community, the country will continue to see a spike in opioid addictions and overdoses; more than enough reason to take a step back and rethink our methods of treatment.