America's opioid addiction has been developing for more than two decades. In the 1990s, pharmaceutical companies began pushing for doctors to prescribe opioids for pain relief by promoting misleading information about the safety and efficacy of the drug. Since then, Americans have gone on to consume more opioid drugs than anywhere else on the globe.
In fact, overdose deaths killed more people in 2016 (the last year for which detailed statistics are available) than the number of people who died in the Vietnam War. More than 42,000 of those deaths were caused by opioid drugs. Surprisingly, more people died that year from opioids than the number of people who died in motor vehicle accidents, more than the number of women who died from breast cancer, and more than the number of people who died by guns. The crisis is so bad that life expectancy in the U.S. has actually decreased.
Part of the problem is that opioid prescriptions are written and handed out significantly more in the U.S. than in other countries. In fact, the Washington Post reports that for every million U.S. residents, 50,000 doses of prescribed opioids are taken each day.
What Opioid Addiction Looks Like in America
An opioid addiction typically starts with a prescription pain reliever. In fact, some of the most commonly prescribed opioid medications are some of the most commonly abused. These include:
- Troxyca ER
- Tylenol 3
- Xartemis XR
- Xtampza ER
Opioid Addiction Has Increased in All Age Groups
While opioid abuse has increased among nearly all age groups, the biggest jump in opioid overdose deaths is in the 55 to 64 age group. In fact, the number of people who die from opioid overdose in this group has jumped from an average of about 4 deaths per 100,000 residents to nearly 22 deaths per 100,000 residents.
While nearly half of all opioid overdose deaths involve women and men between the ages of 25 to 44, many of whom are parents, opioids are also one of the most commonly abused drugs by high schoolers, falling in line with use of alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco.
5 Teens Die Every Day 119 Are Taken To ER 22 Admitted For Treatment
It is important to note, however, that the majority of teens and young adults are not stealing these pills from the medicine cabinet at home – most received these pills from their doctors. Opioid use among this age group is particularly dangerous as young people are more vulnerable to becoming addicted. And 18 to 25-year-olds tend to abuse opioids more than any other age group.
Unfortunately, at least five young adults die every day from overdose, and for every death, 119 more are taken to emergency departments for help, and 22 more are admitted for treatment. Yet, only about a quarter of the young people who seek help will get the treatment they need to recover successfully.
Addiction & Dependency
The scope of the problem is enormous. In 2016 alone:
- 1 million people suffered opioid use disorder
- 1 million misused their prescription opioids for the first time
- 5 million people misused prescription opioids
- 42,249 died from an opioid overdose.
The most common reason for opioid abuse? To relieve pain. Other common reasons for prescription abuse include:
- Getting high and feeling good
- Relieving tension and relaxing
- Helping with sleep
- Wanting to feel better emotionally
- Being hooked and feeling like you have to have it
- Experimenting with the drug
- Enhancing the effects of other drugs
Who is to Blame For Opioid Addiction
Opioid manufacturers, distributors, suppliers, and doctors all hold some responsibility for the current crisis.
Physicians – research has shown that when doctors overprescribe opioids, their patients are nearly 30 percent more likely to become long-term users. How bad is the problem? A physician in Pennsylvania prescribed 3,000 patients about 2.7 million units of opioids in one year. A physician in West Virginia prescribed 272 patients some 22,000 Oxycodone pills in one day.
Pharmacies – a pharmacy in a small West Virginia town with a population of less than 400 shipped in over 9 million units of opioids in two years. Checks and balances are in place so that drug distributors should have questioned why this pharmacy ordered so many pills and the manufacturer should have questioned why its suppliers were shipping so many to one pharmacy.
Manufacturers – from 1996 to 2001 Purdue Pharma alone held over 40 pain management symposia that hosted thousands of doctors, nurses, and pharmacists, then it doubled the size of its sales force, and passed out coupons for 30-day OxyContin supplies that physicians could offer their patients. How well did their scheme work? Prescriptions for the popular pain reliever jumped from 670 thousand to over 6 million.
A large number of states, cities, and local jurisdictions are filing lawsuits against the makers of prescription opioid medications and their supply chains. These lawsuits accuse drug makers of overplaying the benefits of the drugs while downplaying the risks, including the heightened risk of addiction. The plaintiffs in these cases accuse drug makers of incentivizing doctors to prescribe the drugs despite knowing how high the risk of addiction and engaging in deceptive marketing practices that led doctors and their patients to believe the drugs were safe and effective. For example, one pharmaceutical company allegedly went so far as to suggest there was no dosage that was too high and that if a patient displayed the symptoms of addiction, it meant they needed a dose increase.
Other lawsuits are being filed against distributors and pharmacies for putting a massive amount of these drugs into the hands of patients even though they knew or should have known the drugs would be diverted. These groups are accused of violating federal laws that require distributors and pharmacies to monitor orders and shipments and to notify authorities when suspicious orders are placed or shipped.
Hundreds of lawsuits have been filed by state and county governments seeking compensation for the costs of the epidemic including for the costs of drug treatment programs, Narcan, emergency medical care and transportation, law enforcement response and investigations, prosecutions, incarcerations, and the costs of property damage and repairs.
Individuals are also filing personal injury lawsuits against opioid drug makers seeking justice and financial compensation for damages. There are caveats, however:
- you do not have a history of addiction, and
- you have received one or more valid prescriptions for opioid medication, and
- you suffered a major life set back because you became addicted to your prescription, and
- you entered rehabilitation or an in-patient treatment center to get your life back under control.
Families of those who died from their prescription opioid addiction are also filing lawsuits. While the caveats are mostly the same as for individual filers, the victim’s cause of death must be from prescription opioids, and toxicology reports must confirm this.
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Research has shown that medication-assisted treatment coupled with behavioral counseling is an effective treatment for individuals with opioid use disorder. However, only about one-third of patients who suffer opioid dependence receive MAT and less than one-half of all privately funded treatment programs offer it.
Yet, medications have been proven to increase recovery success. The FDA has approved several drugs to help individuals and families beat their opioid addictions. These drugs include:
- Zubsolv – naloxone and buprenorphine combination drug. It is a tablet that dissolves under the tongue.
- Probuphone – buprenorphine implant that provides a constant low dose for six months (four one-inch rods are implanted under the skin of the forearm).
- Lofexidine Hydrochloride – non-narcotic, non-addictive medication that stimulates receptors in the central nervous system to lessen the symptoms of withdrawal.
- Methadone – suppresses withdrawal symptoms and reduces cravings.
- Buprenorphine (Subutex) or buprenorphine plus naloxone(Suboxone) – activates opioid receptors to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
- Sublocade – buprenorphine extended release once-monthly
- CAM2038 – Long acting weekly/monthly injectable that can be administered from Day 1 of treatment (currently waiting for FDA approval).
- Naltrexone (Vivitrol) blocks the effects of opioids in the brain after detoxification.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine’s Criteria for Treatment is divided into six dimensions and is used to develop treatment services and define the level of care. The six dimensions include:
- reviewing past and current substance abuse and withdrawal experiences
- exploring health history and physical condition
- exploring current cognitive, emotional, and behavioral issues
- analyzing interest and readiness to change
- exploring each person’s unique experienced with relapse or continued use
- explores the individual’s living and recovery situation as well as the people, places, and things by which they are surrounded
These dimensions are used to define the individual’s benchmarks for their continuum of care which may involve: intervention, intensive outpatient or clinically managed inpatient services as well as medically monitored intensive inpatient services.
Research shows that of the 22.5 million people in the U.S. who need treatment for drug use, only about 4.2 million will receive treatment within the same year, and of those, only 2.6 will receive treatment through a specialty treatment program. Yet, statistics show that specialty treatment programs are the most effective for individuals with opioid use disorder.
Reach Out Recovery Is Here for You
Finding the information and support you need to recover from opioid abuse or addiction successfully can be very challenging. While there’s lots of information on the internet, you could spend days trying to search for what you need.
Reach Out Recovery is dedicated to addiction education, prevention, healthy living guidance, and recovery. ROR reaches nearly half a million people weekly and is the most comprehensive recovery portal, providing support for emotional well-being, and hope for the 120 million people directly impacted by addiction. ROR is the only nonprofit media organization to create a digital platform for reliable addiction information, recovery news, and support and we are here for you. Always.
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