The opioid addiction crisis is tearing apart our country. The ravages of heroin and painkilling pill addiction knows no boundaries, socio-economic class or gender bias. The effects of deaths from addiction, usually as a result of overdoses, are incalculable from both an emotional and financial standpoint.
Addiction tears apart families and communities with its invisible slaughter of those whose sin is often nothing more than a shoulder injury or a slip and fall at work.
The cycle works this way: someone gets injured and is then prescribed a synthetic opiate like oxycontin or hydrocodone. These painkillers, while highly effective at minimizing or eliminating pain are among the most addictive prescription pills ever created. The cycle continues when a patient cannot eliminate the addiction and then turns to heroin or fentanyl use, often with deadly consequences.
The cycle repeats on an alarming basis in communities as varied as Delray Beach, Florida and Montpelier, Vermont. The United States Federal government has finally begun to address this humanitarian and medical crises with the passing of legislation. Recently, in June of 2017, Congress passed a new bill allocating $2 Billion toward treating opioid addiction.
Here are some statistics, courtesy of the American Society of Addiction Medicine:
- Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illicit drug heroin as well as the licit prescription pain relievers oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, fentanyl and others.
- 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.
- 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 20.5 million Americans 12 or older that had a substance use disorder in 2015, 2 million had a substance use disorder involving prescription pain relievers and 591,000 had a substance use disorder involving heroin.
- It is estimated that 23% of individuals who use heroin develop opioid addiction.
- Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US, with 52,404 lethal drug overdoses in 2015. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 20,101 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers, and 12,990 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2015.
- From 1999 to 2008, overdose death rates, sales and substance use disorder treatment admissions related to prescription pain relievers increased in parallel.
- The overdose death rate in 2008 was nearly four times the 1999 rate; sales of prescription pain relievers
Local politicians are now also becoming more proactive in addressing the catastrophe in their communities. Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief recently hosted a Town Hall Meeting illustrating how the County and the area of Fort Lauderdale are addressing the crisis. The meeting included local political leaders and law enforcement officials.
Officials in Vermont, Massachusetts and other states at both the local and state levels are exploring alternative treatments, the de-criminalization of opioid use by sending users to rehab clinics, and many other new policy initiatives with the hope of saving more lives.
One thing is sure, government is now taking a much more progressive and holistic view of drug overdoses, addiction and the spread of heroin in American communities.