Opioids are a class of drugs generally prescribed for the treatment of moderate to severe pain. They include prescription drugs, such as oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), codeine, morphine and fentanyl, as well as illicit substances, such as heroin.
Besides alleviating pain, these medications can produce a sense of well-being and pleasure by stimulating the regions of the brain that involve the reward system pathway. Since opioids relieve chronic pain in patients by masking the pain instead of treating it, there is an increased risk of developing an addiction due to persistent use.
Despite the wholehearted efforts of various federal and state institutions as well as law enforcement agencies, there has been no respite in the ongoing opioid crisis. Instead, there has been a consistent increase in prescription opioid abuse in the United States. According to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), roughly 11.8 million people aged 12 and above misused opioids in the past year. Such an increase was primarily due to the increased practice of prescription of painkillers and consumption of leftover medications for nonmedical purposes.
Moreover, overdose deaths due to opioids continued to grow, with around 91 Americans succumbing to an opioid overdose every day. More than 15,000 people have died due to a prescription opioid overdose in 2015. Over six out of 10 drug overdose deaths involve an opioid in the U.S. With the increase in the number of overdose deaths due to opioids by four times since 1999, over half a million people have died between 2000 and 2015.
Culprits behind the rise in opioid crisis
One of the key reasons behind the ongoing opioid crisis is the rise in the demand of prescription opioids like hydrocodone and morphine. The meteoric rise in the rate of prescription of painkillers is largely due to inability of a large number of people to afford a health insurance or prescription of such drugs. As a result, both opioid-related overdose deaths and the sale of prescription opioids have increased in parallel. Compared to people with an insurance, those without an insurance are twice likely to report of abusing prescription opioids.
Over a few decades back, the trend of overprescription of opioids had become a rage among the medical fraternity. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), the number of prescriptions written for opioids were 259 million in 2012, enough to give a bottle of pills to every American adult.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four people receiving prescription opioids for noncancer pain in primary care settings suffers from an addiction. In America’s battle against opioid addiction, a large number of evidences point the finger of suspicion toward medical practitioners and their clandestine association with drug manufacturing companies.
On the same lines, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association highlighted the total amount of payments received by the physicians for promoting drugs of pharma companies and medical devices of other private players. Another study brought to focus that nearly $2.4 billion dollars were pocketed by approximately 48 percent of doctors in the U.S. in 2015. The first study suggests that the payments and gifts offered by the drug manufacturing companies acted as an incentive for the doctors to prescribe expensive branded drugs and devices being pushed by the sales representatives. Reportedly, pharma companies earned more than $60 billion in 2010 for the branded drugs named in the study.
Wonder drug naloxone
While the nation is reeling under the weight of the opioid overdose epidemic, thousands of lives can be saved through the wide scale access to naloxone in pharmacies. Since naloxone plays a pivotal role in reversing and blocking the effects of an opioid overdose, medical services providers and clinic staff should be mandatorily trained in the technique of providing naloxone. Naloxone works by binding to opioid receptors. It acts quickly to restore the normal respiration of the person whose breathing has slowed or stopped due to overdosing on heroin or prescription opioid pain medications.
If you or your loved is suffering from prescription drug abuse, seek help now. The Prescription Drug Addiction Help is a useful online resource to seek information related to prescription drug abuse treatment centers. You can chat online with our experts or call at our 24/7 helpline 866-623-3847 for immediate assistance.