The Opioid Epidemic: Losing lives at a fast rate

The abuse, addiction, and overdose on Opioids in this country continues to grow at a very alarming rate. Of the 500,000 people who died of drug overdoses between 2000 to 2014, a record 47,000 in 2014 alone, 6 out of 10 of those deaths involved Opioids. The rate of Heroin abuse has skyrocketed. The rate of heroin-related deaths alone increased 286 percent between 2002 and 2013 – in 2002, 100 people per 100,000 were addicted to heroin but that number had doubled by 2013…and the numbers continue to grow.

But Heroin is not the biggest problem. Prescription opoids is the bigger epidemic. According to the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) abuse of prescription painkillers (primarily Upload prescriptions) is now incredibly common — one in 20 Americans age 12 and older reported using painkillers for non-medical reasons in the past year. The number of overdose deaths from prescription pain medication is larger than those of Heroin and Cocaine combined.

Although the rates of Upload abuse, addiction, and overdose have continued to increase over the last decade; our government reaction to it has been extremely slow to respond; and really offer too little too late…not catching the eyes of the White House until the end of April of this year; wherein the President released a plan to pour $5 million into combating heroin use and trafficking…following years of warnings by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the explosion in heroin use in the United States.

Also earlier last month, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that they had awarded $94 million to 271 health centers in an effort mainly to increase access to medication-assisted treatment for Upload abuse and addiction. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHA) also announced that they will be awarding another $11 million to as many as 11 states to help provide medication-assisted treatment as well.

The recent grants allocated by the Judiciary Committee of Congress allocates $103 million annually over the next five years. These numbers may appear huge to you, but considering the vastness of the problem, and the trickle down of funds to our states, territories, and communities, the numbers are but a “drop in the bucket.” Besides, most of the monies provided are really “after the fact,” when more should be allocated to prevention efforts, and the development of new and innovative programs for prevention and treatment, with emphasis on our youth so they may not be abusers or become addictive in the first place.

Just what are Opioids? Opioids are a class of drugs derived from the Opium secretion of the Scarlet Poppy Plant bulbs, broken down into primarily Morphine, Heroin, Codeine, Hydrocodone, and Oxycodone. Opium is a narcotic (from the Greek word Narcosis, sleep producing)…in the Depressant Drug Class, who’s properties also alleviate pain. Most of the Opium comes from Turkey, where the Scarlet Poppy has its origins, but is also now grown in other areas of the world as well.

Narcotic drugs have also been laboratory synthesized into other drugs as well. Opioids are chemically related and interact with opioid receptors on nerve cells in the brain and nervous system to produce pleasurable effects and relieve pain. Opioids are highly addictive. Addiction is a primary, chronic and relapsing brain disease characterized by an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.

Of the 21.5 million Americans 12 and older that had a substance use disorder in 2014, 1.9 million had a substance use disorder involving prescription pain relievers and 586,000 had a substance use disorder involving heroin. Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US, with 47,055 lethal drug overdoses in 2014. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 18,893 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers, and 10,574 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2014.

These rates have quadrupled within the past decade. This epidemic has raised a red flag for my colleagues and I over the past two decades, and we have been most involved from the community to the national level in bringing this to the attention of our different governmental bodies, and it is just within the last few months that it has been publically acknowledged by the current administration.

I have written many articles on the Opioid epidemic, the last one being in October of last year, bringing the seriousness of it to our readers…the problem is like that proverbial “elephant in the living room.”

Of primary concern is the number of adolescents, ages 12-17 who currently use pain relievers. In 2014, there were 467,000 adolescents who were current nonmedical users of pain reliever, with 168,000 having an addiction to prescription pain relievers. That same year, an estimated 28,000 adolescents had used heroin in the past year, and an estimated 16,000 were current heroin users.

Additionally, an estimated 18,000 adolescents had a heroin use disorder. Within the past decade, the rates for prescription opioids among adolescents has doubled. But most adolescents who misuse prescription pain relievers are given them for free by a friend or relative.

I realize that I have thrown a lot of statistics at you in this article, and that they are only representative through the year 2014; yet it makes us aware of the vastness of the problem of opioid use, abuse, addiction, and overdose. When the 2015 statistics are made available, I am sure that you will be equally shocked by the numbers.

Substance abuse, whether it be from licit or illicit drugs is a serious problem in our society, and has been so since the 1970’s…there seems to be no answer to the problem as of yet. I know that those in the addictions field of our Valley communities are doing the best they can with the tools they have, and I applaud them for that. With our state being number 49 of the 50 states in funding per capita for treatment (and preventative efforts) for persons with substance abuse and mental illness disorders, it is simply amazing that they do so much.

What are you doing to make a difference? Until next time, Stay Healthy my Friends!