Opioid Addiction and Deaths Affect You and Your Community
The addiction to painkillers is a problem that is killing many. In fact, according to the 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the number of deaths from these substances has risen above the cause of death from motor vehicle accidents and firearm-related deaths. So why should you care? How could it possibly affect you?
Opioids (oh-pee-oyds) are semisynthetic medications prescribed for pain. They work by dampening our sense of pain while also producing the feeling of well-being. Some also report the feelings of euphoria or complete relaxation. Unfortunately, this alluring response to opioid medications has led to behaviors of misuse, and down the painful pathway to destructive addictive behaviors. This downward spiral may begin as a person begins to take it for things like sleeping or other non-pain problems. In fact, some with addiction were able to identify this behavior of “self-treatment” for mental health concerns such as loneliness and anxiety. This misuse leads to tolerance as the brain becomes desensitized to the usual dose, requiring more and more, and can lead to use of it in other ways such as crushing it and snorting it, or even dissolving it to inject in a vein (Brande, n.d.)
Worldwide, it is estimated that 26.4 million to 36 million people suffer from opioid addiction. Since 2002, prescription pain medications have killed more than cocaine and heroin combined (DEA). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly half of all accidental overdose deaths were due to opioids such as methadone, hydrocodone (Vicodin) or oxycodone (OxyContin). While the rates of death were highest in those 25-54 years old, men were more likely to die than women from overdose.
So how are people acquiring these medications? Some start with receiving a prescription for a valid reason. This may be acute pain, surgical pain, cancer, or a dental procedure. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), teens (age 12-17) get if from a friend or relative, with or without their knowledge of taking it from them. For this reason, medications should be locked up and monitored. They may also get their first experience with opioids after wisdom teeth extraction or other dental procedures. Women are more likely to have chronic pain. They start with an appropriate dose, then develop tolerance and require more (ASAM, 2016). College students are reported to prefer prescribed painkillers to other substances because it increases the sensation of drunkenness, the effects last longer than other substances, they can often hide the high they feel with the use, and there are less repercussions if caught. Some also report that it is safer to acquire since they do not have to go through a drug dealer. Like other opioid addicts, they may fake symptoms of pain or go “doctor shopping”, going to several offices for more prescriptions (Brande, n.d.)
The statistics are alarming and people are dying. For this reason, we all have to be aware of appropriate use of pain medications, store medications safely, not give pain medications to others “to help a friend”, and not asking for them when it is not appropriate. Long-term pain should be treated with other medications and methods, not opioids. The CDC has provided guidelines for prescribing pain medications, encouraging healthcare providers to only prescribe these substances to those with cancer-related pain, or in much smaller amounts to those with acute pain that fit the criteria. Be aware of this problem in your community because it IS in your community, whether you see it or not.
American Society of Addiction Medicine (2016). Opioid addiction 2016 facts and figures. Retrieved from www.asam.org/docs/default-source/advocacy/opioid-addiction-disease-facts-figures.pdf on 6/12/17.
Brande, L. (n.d.) Prescription Opioid addiction: What is causing the epidemic? Retrieved from www.drugabuse.com/library/prescription-opioid-addiction on 6/12/17.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2015). Prescription overdose data. Retrieved from www.cdc.gov/overdose/data/overdose.html on 6/12/17.
Drug Enforcement Agency (2015). DEA releases 2015 drug threat assessment: Heroin and painkiller abuse continue to concern. Retrieved from www.dea.gov/divisions/hq/2015/hq110415.shtml on 6/11/17.