Is the US Still in the Midst of an Opioid Epidemic?

There is no doubt that opioids are still very wreaking havoc on the American people. Is it still an epidemic, though? What exactly are the root causes of this ravaging issue, and is there an end in sight?

These questions plague the American people as we watch the devastating power that prescribed painkillers can have on an entire culture.

A Doctor’s Purpose

It’s hard to imagine a doctor using their position of power and care to mindfully harm their patients. They build their entire reputation on the exact opposite.

Yet, a decision made by a doctor with intention (hopefully) to help can still land them with criminal charges when a patient overdoses on opioids that the doctor prescribed.

Are doctors accountable for overdose or even addiction, or are they merely good Samaritans with their good intentions warped into terrible circumstances?

On one hand, some believe that even well-meaning doctors are contributing to the levels of addiction and accessibility of such drugs. On the other hand, some see it unavoidable to prescribe opioids to those who truly need them. After all, the doctors are supposed to treat their patients with options that will work.

Further, some argue that doctors are supposed to treat with care, and with known negative effects, some opioids should not be prescribed at all if true proper care is considered.

The Role of Big Pharma

Pharmaceutical companies make money off every prescription written and filled. When they are the ones creating this product to make a profit, might they be to blame for marketing such medication and downplaying the extreme common side effects and complications?

In 2007, the creators of OxyContin admitted to exactly that, and settled the case with the government with a multi-million dollar fine.

The Blame Game

As we have seen over the years, it may be easier to point fingers than it is to truly understand the root of the opioid problem and move on to a solution. But, is anyone truly to blame for opioid overdose?

For one, the opioid crisis is not limited to the legal ones filled in pharmacies every day. It includes street drugs such as heroin, fentanyl, and other synthetic versions.

Most people with an opioid addiction don’t even get their drugs from a doctor; most get it from a family member or friend with a prescription. And while it might feel good to blame a doctor or the pharmaceutical world, a prescription can’t kill someone, but an addiction can.

Where Are We Now?

To clarify the current state of Americans’ relationship with opioids, 11.5 million patients misused their prescription painkillers, and heroin overdose deaths have risen a whopping 533% between 2002 and 2016.

This problem is slowly getting worse, not getting better.

How Does it Affect Us?

It can start with a small injury, a painkiller prescription, a bottle that runs out too soon, and a need for relief. Just as simple as that, someone can be led down a path of years of opiate abuse.

This kind of addiction affects those around the addict, the physical body of the user, and their overall quality of life by creating a physiological and mental attachment to the substance.

A user who is forced to quit abruptly can experience terrible withdrawal symptoms that often lead to a deeper need for the original substance.

The cycle of trying to stop can make it come back hungrier and worse than before.

How We as a Society Can Help

On the individual level, we can all work on our awareness and empathy. If you have suspicion that someone in your life may be battling an opioid addiction, look for the signs and act before it is too late.

Physical effects of heroin and other opiates can range from chest pain to collapsed veins to mood swings, depression, and even memory loss.

Researching the signs will help you spot them when they happen in front of you, and then you can work to get help.

As a society, our medical fields are taking steps to make progress. Patients are often referred to pain specialists who can offer alternative treatments, for example. The surgeon general has even reached out to all doctors, calling them to first educate themselves on the issues, then take careful time to screen patients before prescribing opioids, and finally adjust the dialogue to refer to addiction as a chronic illness rather than a moral failure.

Overall as a society, there is something each of us can do to curb this opioid crisis, whether it’s creating dialogue around these issues, supporting and getting help for addicts, or shifting medical practices.

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