Understanding the Opioid Epidemic
The US is in the midst of an opioid overdose epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. The center estimates the total economic burden of opioid misuse in the United States to be $78.5 billion every year. This includes the cost of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment and criminal justice involvement. In 2017 Health and Human Services (HHS) declared a public health emergency after 68% of all drug overdose deaths involved an opioid that same year.
What caused this?
In the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies assured the medical community that patients would not become addicted to opioid pain relievers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, and tramadol. As a result, healthcare providers began to prescribe them at greater rates, HHS explains. Increased prescription of opioid medications led to widespread misuse of both prescription and non-prescription opioids before it became clear that these medications are indeed highly addictive. By 2018, ten million Americans were misusing opioids leading to increases in overdoses and babies born with withdrawal symptoms from opioids that were in their mother’s systems when they were pregnant. Also known as neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS. In the state of Texas alone, the number of babies born with NAS has increased by 60% over the last five years.
Anyone who takes prescription opioids can become addicted to them. As many as 1 in 4 patients receiving long-term opioid therapy in a primary care setting struggles with opioid addiction, reports the CDC. Opioid dependence causes withdrawal symptoms, which makes it difficult to stop taking them. Addiction occurs when dependence interferes with daily life. Symptoms of addiction include uncontrollable cravings and inability to control opioid use even though it’s having negative effects on personal relationships or finances. Research shows there is a common misperception in the United States that prescription drug misuse is without risk because prescription drugs are regulated pharmaceuticals with legal, medical uses.
Combatting the Opioid Epidemic
The CDC and HHS are committed to working with communities fighting the opioid epidemic to improve awareness, prevention, research and equipping states with resources. The HHS launched a comprehensive 5-Point Strategy that includes:
- Access: Better Prevention, Treatment, and Recovery Services
- Data: Better Data on the Epidemic
- Pain: Better Pain Management
- Overdoses: Better Targeting of Overdose-Reversing Drugs
- Research: Better Research on Pain and Addiction
This issue has become a public health crisis with devastating consequences. If you or someone you know needs help, effective treatment and prescriptions are available and can save lives.
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