Is the Current Opioid Epidemic New Though?
It’s hard to turn on the news now-a-days without hearing shocking stories or statistics concerning the Opioid Epidemic. Opioid abuse has had a huge affect in our country. Some may think Opioid abuse is a new thing, but that’s not the case. Opioids aren’t new. If you have a headache, you take an aspirin, right? Sprained your ankle badly? The doctor will probably recommend ice and ibuprofen. Running a fever? Tylenol or Advil please. Having surgery? Well then, you’ll need some strong painkillers for your post-surgery pain. The issue isn’t as much with the Opioid itself. It’s how doctors began prescribing the more powerful opiates to help their patients with chronic pain.
Humans have used Opioids for Hundreds of Years
Opioids have been around for hundreds of years. Strangely enough, this is not the first U.S. crisis involving heavy drugs. During the Revolutionary war, an estimated 400,000 soldiers treated their pain with morphine. It is believed that this was the biggest cause for the rise in Opioid addiction during the early 1800’s. Similarly, over the past 20-30 years, the opioid epidemic has come roaring back to the US. Opioids have destroyed lives and communities across the country.
While it is easy to point fingers, and there is plenty of blame to go around. It is important to know that the Opioid epidemic did not begin solely because drug companies got greedy. It wasn’t because doctors turned into reckless pill prescribers overnight. Just like during the Revolutionary War, it began with empathetic doctors who were just trying to stop suffering. Especially in the cases of people dealing with chronic, and sometimes terminal, pain. However, what started off with good intentions quickly turned into a wild fire of abuse and over prescribing by physicians.
Opioid Use Old + New
Back in the day, the more popular opiates like heroin and morphine had stigmas attached to them. People were scared to inject themselves with needles and/or share intravenous drugs with other people for fear of diseases or aesthetic blemishes. During the past 30 years or so though, that’s changed. Some of the most powerful opiates are now produced in pill form. This has led to a decreased stigma behind their overall use. Drugs like Fentanyl and Oxycodone have replaced heroin and morphine as the drugs of choice among the users that can afford it. Fentanyl is the drug responsible for the death of artist “formerly known as Prince”. Those who can’t afford it, or whose insurance doesn’t cover their pain prescriptions, are prone to shooting heroin or morphine to get their fix.
Is it really an Opioid Crisis?
The New York Times recently reported that the number of drug overdose deaths exceeded 59,000 in 2016. The rise in the death toll from 2015 is the largest annual jump ever recorded in the United States (19%). This is just one of the major effects of an rising Opioid epidemic that is now the leading cause of death among Americans under 50. If Congress and Senate leadership don’t do something soon, these numbers will continue to rise. The opiate crisis could become a plague.