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Opioid Epidemic: How We can Protect the Next Generation

In August, President Donald Trump announced that he was declaring the opioid crisis in the United States a national emergency. Clearly, the opioid epidemic in this country has reached a critical point. But are we past the point of no return? We firmly believe the answer to that question is no. We are facing the worst opioid epidemic in our history, which is why it is so important to ask ourselves how we can protect the next generation from the dangers of opioid and other drugs.

Responding to the Opioid Epidemic in the United States (and Around the World)

Thankfully, we can do something about the opioid epidemic. This is not an unsolvable issue. To get to the bottom of the issue and provide you with some helpful information along the way, we address the following questions:

  • What is the opioid crisis, anyway?
  • What do the opioid epidemic statistics tell us?
  • What does the CDC have to say about the opioid crisis?
  • What is the role of heroin in the opioid epidemic?
  • What is the role of prescription opioid abuse in the drug crisis?
  • How does the opioid epidemic affect young people and adolescents?
  • How can we protect the next generation from this opioid epidemic?

We’ll be honest: we don’t have all the answers. But we are committed to finding the best way to treat opioid addiction, keep people who want help from the dangers of an opioid overdose, and help them get back on track in life.

What is the Opioid Crisis in the United States?

The opioid epidemic is a term that describes the dramatic increase in opioid prescriptions, use and abuse, and overdose deaths over the course of the past two decades. Even if there is not a simple opioid epidemic definition, the opioid crisis meaning is clear: the United States has seen a drastic shift in prescription opioid abuse and heroin use. And it seems to be only getting worse. More specifically, prescription opioid abuse has risen steadily since the turn of the century. Prescriptions for opioid medications quadrupled over the course of ten years, and have only continued to rise since that statistic was taken.

What Are the Causes of the Opioid Epidemic?

People tend to abuse prescription opioids at a much higher rate than heroin, but heroin accounts for most of the opioid overdose deaths in the country. This makes determining the opioid epidemic causes slightly complicated. While heroin still accounts for most opioid overdose deaths, prescription opioid abuse has a clear part to play in the opioid epidemic in this country. “While heroin and fentanyl are the primary killers now, experts agree that the epidemic will not stop without halting the flow of prescription opioids that got people hooked in the first place.” ~ Josh Katz, writing for The New York Times There are several causes of the opioid epidemic, then. Increased opioid prescriptions, the cheaper production of heroin, and a lack of focus on true addiction treatment and prevention are all to blame for the opioid crisis to some degree or another. Of course, the detrimental and addictive nature of opiates themselves are the real meaning of the opioid crisis.

Getting the Full Picture: Let’s Look at These Opioid Epidemic Statistics

Numbers can often help us get a better grasp of a situation. Here are just some of the opioid epidemic statistics that paint a picture of the situation in America. This is the CDC on the opioid epidemic:

  • 91 Americans die every day due to an opioid overdose.
  • Six out of ten drug overdose deaths involve an opioid drug.
  • In less than two decades, the number of opioid overdose deaths has quadrupled.
  • From 2000 to 2015, more than 500,000 people died from a drug overdose.
  • The number of prescriptions for opioid medications quadrupled from 1999 to 2010.
  • Overdose deaths from prescription opioids (like oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone) has also quadrupled in less than two decades.

Insight: New Mexico is the state with the highest opioid use, at least in terms of opioid overdose deaths over the past few years.

Opioid Epidemic Statistics: Drug Overdoses Are Now the Leading Cause of Death

That’s right: the opioid crisis in the United States has reached an entirely new level. “Drug overdoses are the leading cause of death for Americans under 50, and deaths are rising faster than ever, primarily because of opioids. Overdoses killed more people last year than guns or car accidents, and are doing so at a pace faster than the H.I.V. epidemic at its peak. In 2015, roughly 2 percent of deaths — one in 50 — in the United States were drug-related.” ~ Josh Katz, writing for The New York Times Frankly, these statistics are frightening. If one in fifty deaths are from opioid overdoses, the United States clearly has a problem to address. We should aim at getting to the point not only where overdoses are drastically reduced, but also where opioid use and abuse is not a normal reality in our country. These opioid epidemic statistics make it clear that America not only has a drug problem, but that the United States is facing the worst drug crisis in its history. So what can we do about it?

What the Opioid Epidemic Looks Like in 2017

The meaning of the opioid crisis is that everyone is at risk. From a retired 68 year old who takes prescription painkillers to a 15 year old who encounters stolen pills on the street, the reality of the opioid crisis means that it has affected the entirety of the country. While concerning, this is not supposed to simply be alarming or a cause for fear. Instead, this picture of the opioid epidemic in 2017 should be a call to action. The opioid crisis in the United States has affected millions of people of all ages. It will likely to continue to affect millions of people if we do not do something about it. Thankfully, we can do something about it. Responding to the opioid epidemic in 2017 requires understanding the underlying causes of the crisis. This may be easier said than done, but some due diligence in looking into the economic, personal and social factors that lay underneath the opioid epidemic will go a long way. These range from the increase in prescription opioid use, the availability of heroin around the country, and the way that we choose to treat opioid addiction.

The Role of Heroin and Prescription Drugs in the Opioid Epidemic

Most people tend to have a particular image of what the opioid epidemic looks like in the United States, and it usually involves street drugs and sketchy drug houses. This may be part of the opioid epidemic, but it is not the full picture. In fact, prescription opioid drugs are considered to be a much bigger part of the problem than heroin. Both heroin and prescription opioids are abused for the same exact reason: the euphoria. The major difference is that prescription opioids are legal. Ultimately, heroin and prescription opioids are part of the same problem. But prescription opioids are more commonly the drug that people first get addicted to. Heroin accounts for a large portion of the problems associated with the opioid epidemic in the United States. But that is mainly because people turn to heroin as a cheaper option after first becoming physically dependent on prescription opioid drugs. More specifically, the National Institute on Drug Abuse has reported that almost 8 out of 10 heroin users first became addicted to prescription opioids. This makes at least one thing clear moving forward: the solution to protecting the next generation from the opioid epidemic will most likely not be found in just cracking down on heroin users with criminal charges. Americans are much more likely to become addicted to ‘legal’ opioids, which is where the crisis often begins.

Protecting the Next Generation from the Opioid Epidemic

According to a recent online article from Dr. Scott Hadland and Dr. Sarah Bagley, the key to protecting the next generation from the opioid epidemic is to invest in the next generation directly. Instead of worrying about an effective penal code for drug possession or how many prescription opioids are produced, what will likely prove most effective is to prevent teens and adolescents from engaging in drug abuse in the first place. This is the crucial element of addressing the opioid epidemic in 2017 and in the years to come. “Any forward-thinking national overdose strategy needs to invest heavily early in the life course — that is, in children and adolescents. To be successful, the strategy must prevent teens from initiating problematic opioid use in the first place, and expand access to evidence-based treatment for teens.” ~ Dr. Scott Hadland & Dr. Sarah Bagley In other words, preventing the opioid crisis from becoming worse than it is now, in 2017, is people-focused. At least part of this is to introduce addiction treatment and opioid drug abuse programs that focus on the needs and vulnerabilities of young people. This comes in two parts: preventing addiction in the first place and creating effective addiction treatment for young people and adults alike.

Looking to the Future: Addiction Prevention & Addiction Treatment Working Hand-in-Hand

The key to protecting the next generation from the opioid epidemic is to simultaneously work toward addiction prevention and providing effective and proven addiction treatment. What is the use of talking about the state with the highest opioid use if we can’t address this? Opioid addiction prevention is mostly out of our hands. It is up to legislators to pass these laws, physicians to prescribe less opioids overall, and for each individual to look out for themselves and those around them. “The other critical arm of an effective opioid strategy is ensuring availability of evidence-based treatment for youth. Intervening early when teens first develop signs of addiction can help avert a lifetime of harm. Yet, only one in 12 youth who need treatment for addiction receive it.” ~ Dr. Scott Hadland & Dr. Sarah Bagley Thankfully, we can help with at least one aspect of looking to the future in this opioid epidemic in 2017: providing effective opioid addiction treatment. You can get help for yourself, for your son or daughter, or for your loved one and avoid becoming part of the opioid overdose statistics from above. We are here to help you. If you still have questions about the meaning of the opioid crisis, the opioid epidemic causes, or what you can do about opioid epidemic in 2017, feel free to contact us today.