Despite educational materials highlighting the dangers of prescription narcotics, millions of Americans discover first-hand the perils of opioid abuse. Researchers and drug addiction experts continue to focus on soaring overdose rates attributed to the nationwide opioid epidemic. While drug treatment remains a central pillar in fighting addiction, preventive actions have always proven to be more effective. Is it possible to prevent opioid abuse? Experts are taking a closer look.
Over the past decade, the number of drug overdose deaths has rapidly grown. In recent years, increased opioid and illicitly manufactured fentanyl overdoses have substantially contributed to the rise of deaths. More concerningly, the rates seem to be increasing with each passing year.
What Exactly is an Epidemic?
By now, most of us are well-informed about what a pandemic is. We’ve spent the majority of 2020, and half of 2021, learning how to adapt to the new normal as COVID-19 took hold in communities worldwide. Over the last decade, many of us have heard – at least in passing – that drug epidemics are destroying American towns and cities. How does an epidemic compare to a pandemic?
The term epidemic refers to something that may “affect or tends to affect a disproportionately large number of individuals within a population, community, or region at the same time,” according to the Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention (CDC). As we are well aware, not all diseases are created equal.. An easy way to remember it is that pandemics carry a passport. In other words, they’re prevalent in multiple countries or continents. Indeed, drug abuse is ubiquitous worldwide.
However, referring exclusively to trends in America, it’s an epidemic. And opioids have accelerated the dangers of the growing drug epidemic in this country. What is being done to prevent opioid abuse?
Why did Opioid Use Increase?
It may seem like all of a sudden, news outlets are covering fentanyl overdoses and opioid dangers. However, opioids are not new to the drug industry.
Trends in prescribing pain medication may be to blame for the overdose rates currently skyrocketing. Opioid use has grown to epidemic levels due to many other factors, including:
- Lack of regulations for opioid prescriptions
- Lack of drug awareness
- Drug trade and drug policy
According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, opioid use increased due to a lack of awareness of the risks for opioid addiction. In the late 1990s, several pharmaceutical companies downplayed the potential, for addiction to these highly potent medicines. Many doctors began to prescribe opioids at extremely high rates.
Function of Opioids
Opioids are predominantly used to help manage pain, especially for chronic diseases like cancer and end-of-life care. Common opioids that became highly abused were OxyContin and Vicodin. In 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency and enacted an urgent strategy to address the opioid crisis in the United States. In order to address how to prevent opioid abuse, it’s important to understand how the drug functions.
How Opioids Work in the Body
Opioids are commonly used to relieve pain caused by several kinds of physical disorders and illnesses. Opioids block pain receptors, allowing for patients to experience less pain caused by cancer, chronic pain, and arthritis. Additionally, they are highly effective for after-surgery care.
Opioid medications are still commonly prescribed by physicians to help reduce pain, but the regulations around opioid medication have shifted in light of the confirmed risks.. Addiction specialists are continually looking for ways to prevent opioid abuse, but the task at hand is far from easy.
Common pain and pain disorders treated by opioids include:
- Cancer Pain
- Diabetic Nerve Pain
- Chronic Pain
- Post-Surgical Recovery Pain
If Opioids are Heavily Regulated Now, How Do People Get Them?
It’s true that, today, opioids are heavily regulated. However, their popularity continues to accelerate. Where are people obtaining these potent prescriptions? Turning to illicit forms of opioids has kept the drug in the hands of millions.
One of the most common opioids that is manufactured and distributed illegally is heroin. In 2019, 948,000 Americans reported using heroin in the past year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additionally, recent reports indicate that other illicit substances like cocaine and meth are being mixed with highly toxic opioids, especially the well-known fentanyl. A 2020 article published by NPR reviewed how China’s online synthetic drug networks are making it easier for American’s to obtain one of the world’s most deadly substances. Fentanyl death rates in areas like Harris County Texas are hovering around 4% for every 100,000 users. Nationally, the death rate from these drugs increased by 1,125% in Maryland from 2011 to 2017.
Other common opioid and opiate medications include:
For further information on the dangers of opioid medications visit Johns Hopkins Medicine online here.
I’m Prescribed Opioids. Am I Safe?
Opioids are safe and effective if they are used as directed by physicians. Opioid addictive properties often need to be monitored on a regular basis to avoid developing dependence and increased tolerance.
Significant regulations have been put in place by clinics and hospitals throughout the United States to help distribute opioids safely and effectively.
The U.S. government has developed a five-point plan to help address opioid abuse prevention. This five-point plan also includes proper education regarding short-term and long-term effects of opioid use. The plan patients, communities, doctors, and educators help develop awareness of the severe impact of opioids on families and communities. The five-point plan as developed by the Department of Health and Human Services includes:
- Conduct Surveillance and Research
- Build State, Local, and Tribal Capacity
- Support Providers, Health Systems, and Payers
- Empower Consumers to Make Safe Choices
- Partner with Public Safety
The hope of the five-point plan is to help develop proper resources and knowledge to combat the impact the opioid epidemic has on the United States.
What Are Side-Effects of Opioids?
Heroin and opioid medications can have severe long-term and short-term consequences. The use of opioids either legally or illegally warrants close monitoring as they can quickly develop into an opioid addiction.
Use can often go unnoticed by family, friends, and coworkers causing opioid use to be used for long periods of time. Common signs of opioid use include:
- Loss of Memory
- Weight Loss
- Breathing Problems
How Can AspenRidge Help Me?
AspenRidge Recovery offers a phased approach to treatment and has a highly reputable and effective program that involves a 90-day partial hospitalization program, intensive outpatient care, and an alumni support program that aids in maintaining sobriety even after program completion.
AspenRidge is a confidential recovery center located in Fort Collins and Lakewood, Colorado. AspenRidge understands the challenges that arise from opioid use. We offer access to self-assessment tools that may provide more clarity on how to address or prevent opioid abuse. These assessments are five to ten minutes in length and they connect you with a specialist who can discuss the assessment results and guide you through recovery steps.
Where Do I Find the Self-Assessments?
The self-assessments are available on the AspenRidge website and results are kept confidential. Please visit the below links for the Online Substance Use and Mental Health Assessment and the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Quiz.
AspenRidge is dedicated to tailoring treatment as much as possible to each client. We provide a safe environment for all who are struggling with opioid addiction to experience long term sobriety.
Prospective clients may contact AspenRidge Recovery Centers to discuss Opioid Addiction Treatment Program at (719) 259-1107. Gaining knowledge prior to taking the steps towards recovery is important and AspenRidge is dedicated to guiding clients and their family through the process towards recovery.