Unfortunately, none of us are strangers to the opioid crisis that has been plaguing our nation for years. It is certainly an epidemic of great proportions, and as the New Year has begun, the latest figures are in.
Officially, 2016 was the worst year so far for drug overdoses, with the highest number of overdose deaths on record. While this disturbing new development may simply be numbers to some, it gravely shows just how badly our society is suffering. These figures come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who have been releasing preliminary numbers throughout 2017. Nevertheless, the agency’s latest report is comprised of a final count for 2016.
In 2016, more than 42,000 Americans died of opioid overdoses, which is a 28% increase from the year prior.
Overall, when we factor in ALL drugs, including stimulants, opioids, alcohol, etc., overdoses took the lives of more than 63,000 Americans in 2016; a 21% increase from 2015.
Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why opioid overdose deaths have grown to exponential proportions.
Prescription Pain Medication
It is no secret that the opioid crisis began in the 1990’s, when powerful prescription opioids became available to the everyday patient. Although originally intended for end-of-life scenarios, such as cancer, medications like OxyContin and hydrocodone soon became the “go-to” prescription for common injuries, aches, and dental procedures.
While much of the blame has been placed on physicians who easily overprescribe, it is the pharmaceutical companies and manufacturers that fraudulently marketed these opioids as non-addictive. Yes, there have certainly been many of doctors who added to the crisis, especially as pill mills popped up throughout the country. Nevertheless, it was the major manufacturers who pushed even the most legitimate and ethical physicians to treat pain with their drugs, and misled them on the safety of those drugs.
Countless medicine cabinets got stocked across the country and opioids were now easily accessible to more people. What’s more, it was not only the patient at risk. Everyone in the household, from siblings, to spouses, and even children, were now all susceptible to the dangers of addiction. Soon, we would find ourselves in a tailspin.
Addiction rates soared and many who became addicted to these powerful opioids eventually turned to more potent, illicit substances; namely, heroin. Studies reveal that many heroin users first tried prescription opioids before ever becoming addicted to heroin. A 2014 JAMA study tells us that 75% of heroin addicts began with painkillers, and a 2015 analysis conducted by the CDC found that people who are addicted to prescription opioids are 40 times more likely to become addicted to heroin.
Fentanyl Overdose Deaths Doubled In 2016
The over prescription of addictive opioids, and the eventual turn to heroin, are clearly two major reasons why overdose deaths have skyrocketed. Moreover, another culprit is an issue that has been escalating in recent years.
That menace would be fentanyl, and the abundance of it found on the black market. Fentanyl is a schedule II prescription opioid that is used to treat severe pain and/or manage pain after surgery, but administered incorrectly, it can be lethal. Similar to morphine, Fentanyl is said to be 50 to 100 times more potent and just a small granule of the substance can be deadly.
While prescriptions of fentanyl have easily been abused and diverted, it is not always the prescription form that is the issue. Many experts now report that illicitly manufactured fentanyl and fentanyl analogs are a driving force in the sharp increase of drug overdose deaths.
Labs in other countries, such as China and Mexico, formulate chemical structures similar to fentanyl and its analogs, like Carfentanil, and smuggle them over our borders. Many times, these chemicals are mixed with heroin, cocaine, and even counterfeit prescription pills, leaving both dealers and users blind to the threat among them.
The CDC now tells us that these illicit, lab-made fentanyl analogs were responsible for half of all opioid overdose deaths in 2016, coming in at 19,413. That number is double from the year prior, where 9,580 fell victim to fentanyl overdoses. The CDC team says based on its report, the major driving force behind the opioid epidemic is coming from the black market, and no longer from doctor’s offices.
“Illicitly manufactured fentanyl is now a major driver of opioid overdose deaths in multiple states, with a variety of fentanyl analogs increasingly involved, if not solely implicated, in these deaths,” the CDC’s Julie O’Donnell, John Halpin, and colleagues reported.
Clearly it took many years and an array of influencers to get us to the point that we are at today. With that said, we must address this crisis on all fronts. We cannot do one thing without the other. Limiting prescriptions, providing treatment, controlling our borders; they must all be done cohesively if we want to see results. It is will certainly take time, but we must start somewhere.
If you or a loved one is struggling with opioid addiction, help is available. It is important to know that your story does not have to end this way. Get the help you need today and give yourself the opportunity to a live a life beyond your wildest dreams.
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