The Opiate Epidemic: Heroin and Painkiller Abuse Continues to Grow

The Opiate Epidemic

Opiate abuse has become an extreme epidemic in the United States. The usage of painkillers for minor treatments has gone up, causing a startling rise in the overdose of these highly addictive drugs. There has been an increase in usage even among young people, leading to many opiate addicts. Here’s a detailed look at killer drug crisis facing our country; The Opiate Epidemic.

The use of opiate based painkillers have gone up drastically around the country. What was once prescribed to cancer patients and those under chronic pain is now being prescribed for routine minor aches and pains. With insurance prices through the roof, and the high cost of co-pays, no one wants to hear from their doctor to go home, take Tylenol and rest. They want a prescription for something that will work immediately. This has sparked the opiate epidemic that is now plaguing the country. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) statistics show that as at 2010, the number of prescribed opiate drugs sold quadrupled compared to 1999. Moreover, in a year like 2012, written opioid prescriptions rose to over 259 million.

The increase in opioid painkiller prescriptions is the leading cause in the rise of deaths from opiate overdoses. The epidemic has plagued the country like never before.  The large percentage of opiate and heroin users are not what you would expect. When people think of heroin addicts, they tend to think of old white homeless males. What is surprising is that a large percentage of users are middle-class housewives and young adults.

Opiate Abuse Starts At Home

Many homes now have a leftover bottle of opiate painkillers sitting in their bathroom cabinet from a dentist appointment for a toothache or from their doctor for a pulled muscle or back ache. Young teens hear about opiates from their friends, desperate to fit in, cave to peer pressure and take the pills for themselves and their friends. Many think the pills are harmless because their parents have them in their house, and because a doctor wrote out the prescription. This could not be further from the truth.

The problem with taking opiates is that tolerance builds extremely fast. Many recreational opiate users start off taking pills on occasion to enjoy the euphoria or “high” that they get.  After a few times of taking the pills, they begin to notice they don’t get the same “high” they did when they first started taking the pills. Instead of taking one pill to get high, they now need 2 pills. After a few weeks, the 2 pills no longer work, and this is how an addiction grows.

After a few weeks to a few months of using, the cost of acquiring the painkiller can become extremely expensive.  These one time recreational users have become full blown addicts before they even realize what hit them. They do whatever they can to afford more pills. Pawn their items, borrow money from friends and family, and even start to steal anything of value that they can pawn/exchange for more pills. Opiate withdrawals can be extremely debilitating and many addicts will do whatever is necessary to avoid them.  The cycle just gets worse and worse.

The Progression of Painkillers to Heroin

This is the point when many opiate addicts make the dangerous switch to heroin. For as little as $5 per bag of heroin, an addict may get the same high they received when they were spending $100’s of dollars on pills. The cheaper cost of heroin comes with it’s own set of problems. The problem with heroin is that every bag’s potency is different. Drug dealers cut (or mix) their heroin with other substances to make their supply last longer as well as make their batches more potent. Pills are regulated by the FDA. A 10mg pill will always be 10mg. But a bag of heroin varies from one bag to the next. One bag may not be potent, while the next bag may be so potent that an overdose is inevitable. Many heroin dealers are mixing their heroin with Fentanyl, which is an extremely powerful opiate which is 50 to 100 times more powerful than heroin. A small dose of Fentanyl can be deadly.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration study in 2013 showed that about 80 percent of heroin users took some kind of opiate painkillers previously, for non-medical reasons. Opioids prescribed for pain do not always result in addiction if the drugs are taken as prescribed by a doctor. However, The National Institute of Health highlights that among people who use prescribed opioids as directed for about one year, 5 percent tend to develop an addiction disorder.

Opiate Abuse and Addiction Statistics

The number of people who are dying from opiate drugs and heroin is rapidly increasing. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says that the number of opioid drugs overdose deaths since 1999 was four times by 2015, accounting for over 33,000 deaths, making it the worst drug crisis and epidemic in the American history. Drug overdose in the United States is killing more people than car crashes and gun homicides; research showing at least 50 percent of the drug overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid.

The national average death rate from drug overdose is about 15 deaths in every 100,000 people. According to CDC, the states with highest drug overdose deaths in 2014 were New Mexico, West Virginia, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Kentucky. The highest overdose death rate was in West Virginia with about 35 deaths for every 100,000 people. Some of the states that shown a drug overdose death increase from 2013 to 2014 were Alabama, Maine, Michigan, Georgia, New Mexico, Illinois, Ohio, Virginia, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania. North Dakota was the state with the highest death increase between the two years, where the number of deaths increased by 125 percent. In the nation, the rate increase in the two years was 6.5 percent.

Working to Help The Opiate Epidemic

As a remedy to the opiate epidemic, the nation has worked to improve opioid drug prescription laws with such things as “prescription drug monitoring systems” in which pharmacists can review patients recent prescriptions to make sure they are not “doctor shopping” or going to multiple doctors to receive multiple prescriptions for opiate medications. These programs monitor the use of prescription drugs in various states to improve safety and provide helpful information to health care providers.  The FDA has also worked to shut down “Pills Mills” or doctors who strictly write out opiate prescriptions to anyone who can afford to pay for them.

Implementing these strategies will work to reduce some of the abuse and improve patient safety. There are many resources online, supplements and rehabilitation facilities in various states with professionals that can help you, or any opiate user, work to break the addiction cycle.  Do not become another statistic. If you or someone you know are addicted to opiates, please seek help immediately. We will be providing different resources throughout this website to help with opiate abuse.