As one of the fastest-growing causes of death in the United States, it’s safe to say that opioid addiction has escalated to an epidemic in our country. From prescription abuse to illicit substance usage, the prevalence of opioids is one of the most important crises the United States faces – and it is only getting worse. But to fully understand how opioid addiction came to be such a problem, we’ll need to take a look at the history of the opioid epidemic.
If you or someone you know hasn’t been affected by the opioid epidemic, consider yourselves lucky. According to the American Psychiatry Association, nearly one-third of Americans know someone who is or has been addicted to opioids at some point. If left unaddressed, this familiarity could grow to similar levels of alcohol and smoking – but with much more dire consequences.
In the fight against addiction, information and awareness can go a long way. In this article, we’ll outline the history of the opioid epidemic to give you an idea of just how dangerous it is, and how to seek help if you’re suffering from addiction.
How the Epidemic Began
Just like other epidemics throughout history, the opioid epidemic started small but grew exponentially over time. Although opioids have existed since the 1800s (and opium was used hundreds or even thousands of years ago), the major problems truly began in 1991 when doctors began more frequently prescribing opioids to their patients. While previously they were primarily used for cancer-related pain, drug manufacturers began recommending their usage as general painkillers despite a lack of information surrounding their safety. They even claimed that patients wouldn’t become addicted to opioids – but they were wrong. This began a trend of doctors overprescribing the drugs that led to 86% of opioid prescriptions being used for non-cancer related pain in 1999. The trend continued, leading to 3 times as many overdose deaths in the US from 1999-2015 as a result of widespread misuse.
The Government’s First Major Crackdown
As the death toll continued to climb and addiction rates rose, more information about the dangers of opioid abuse became available. This led the CDC, FDA, and other government institutions to step in around 2010 to introduce more restrictions for prescribing opioids as a means to slow the growth of the disease. SAMHSA – the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration – also began taking steps to increase the availability of treatment services, improve awareness of the dangers of opioid abuse, and fund research into non-addictive pain treatments. However, the dwindling availability of prescribed opioids led people to begin searching for alternatives, leading to the rise of heroin as one of the most dangerous street drugs available and an overwhelming increase in opioid abuse.
The Rise of Heroin and Other Street Drugs
Once the patients ran out of their painkiller prescription, many found themselves addicted to the painkillers they were on. This caused them to seek out other opioids to maintain their euphoria and fight off withdrawal. Unlike many pharmaceuticals, heroin can be made relatively quickly and inexpensively from poppy seeds, making it much more readily available on the streets than heavily-regulated prescription opioids. For those who were desperate to feed their addiction, it was the perfect transition. Unfortunately, street opioids are even more dangerous than prescriptions.
Heroin is an entirely unregulated illicit substance, meaning that the dosing is inconsistent because most of the time, the buyer doesn’t even know what is exactly in it. This makes it exceptionally dangerous to use due to the risk of it being “cut” with another drug that could be far too potent or interact with the heroin to cause potentially fatal side effects. Heroin is also often injected, which introduces bloodborne diseases like Hepatitis C and HIV to those who share needles used for injection.
The dangers of heroin grew even higher in 2015 when Fentanyl – a much stronger opioid – began flooding the streets of the United States. At 50-100x the strength of morphine, even 10% of your usual dose could be enough to lead to an overdose. With Fentanyl being almost indiscernible from heroin and a lack of awareness about the dangers of Fentanyl, people began to take it accidentally. This caused overdoses to skyrocket in the following years which led to the largest spike in drug-related deaths in the history of the opioid epidemic in 2016 and a public health emergency being declared in 2017.
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The Effects of Opioid Addiction on The Population
Drug use is one of the leading causes of preventable death in the US, with approximately 25% of preventable death being attributable to alcohol, tobacco, or illicit drug usage. However, unlike alcohol and tobacco, it is incredibly easy to die from opioid overdose in the short term. Approximately 130 people die from opioid-related overdoses every day in the US, and even more die from complications caused by their addiction. With just a single accidental overdose being potentially life-threatening, there are few more dangerous addictions than opioids – and even more reason for you to get the assistance you need.
Liberate Yourself from the Epidemic with Opioid Addiction Rehab
Addiction can be a physically, emotionally, financially, and mentally draining illness. It is easy to feel hopeless or out of control when suffering from it, which makes seeking help an even harder decision to make. Fortunately, if you’re reading this you still have a chance to avoid becoming another overdose statistic.
Ocean Hills Recovery is a comprehensive drug and alcohol treatment center specializing in treating substance addiction. Our inpatient rehab programs can provide a safe environment for you to kick your addiction and begin the path to recovery. Through detox, until you graduate from the program, you’ll be under the watchful eye of expert staff at Ocean Hills Recovery’s premier Californian rehab facility where you can relax while you focus on your treatment and recovery. During your stay, you’ll be equipped with coping skills to help avoid relapse and provided with resources to continue your treatment once you leave.
You can’t change the past, but you can control the future of the opioid epidemic by not being a part of it. Don’t fall prey to addiction – give us a call today.
About the author:
Greg opened his home and heart to alcoholics and addicts in 2003. He is a Certified Addictions Treatment Counselor (CATCI). Starting in 2009 Greg has fostered the growth of Ocean Hills Recovery into one of the most respected and effective treatment centers in the area and has been working with people with addictions since March of 2001. Greg believes in a holistic approach to recovery. His focus is on drug alcohol addiction treatment with a combination of 12 Step work, therapy and counseling, and the rejuvenation of the body through healthful eating and exercise. He has designed his program to foster a family-like atmosphere and believes that people in recovery are just beginning their lives. He encourages the people he works with to learn to enjoy life in sobriety. Greg is married to Nicole; they have two adorable sons together and an energetic yellow Labrador Retriever.