It’s not difficult to find written information or videos about opioids on the Internet. Type in the name and a landfill full of stories are almost immediately available.
Unfortunately, most of them are dark and some quite difficult to watch or read.
Although it may seem like a recent development, the history of widespread addiction and abuse of opioids in the United States dates back over 150 years. Morphine was used during the Civil War and many soldiers became addicted, even after the war’s conclusion.
Later, thinking heroin was less addictive, it was dispensed to individuals addicted to morphine.
Being less addictive wasn’t true and a series of laws regulating the distribution of opioids were enacted in the 20th Century.
In 2007, the federal government brought criminal charges against Purdue Pharma for falsely claiming OxyContin was safer and less addictive than other opioids. The company and a number of executives plead guilty.
The market is flooded with names such as Percocet, Vicodin, Codeine, and Fentanyl.
But if they’re so bad, why are they so widely distributed.
In short, they aren’t bad for a small segment of the population. For people with chronic or end-of-life pain, the drugs, when used as prescribed, are effective at managing the agony.
The problem centers more on “over-prescribing” and having leftover pills sitting in cabinets. It is those leftover pills that often lead youth down rough, difficult-to-navigate terrain.
In an interview with Dartmouth Medicine, pain expert Seddon Savage said: “So a patient might get 20-50 Percocet after surgery or an injury and use just one or two. The rest sit on the shelf. We know that over 70 percent of nonmedical use of opioids is the result of obtaining drugs from people who have a legitimate prescription.
“That means there are excess medications out there.”
She added that while opioids can help those in pain, opioid misuse and abuse causes suffering as well.
And that’s when the trouble begins.
Data gathered over time suggests four out of five heroin users started down the path to addiction after using prescription opioids.
It is far from harmless … to anyone. Overdose deaths in 2014 exceeded 14,000 people and over 165,000 since 1999. And it has been escalating, with the number of deaths from opioid use rising about 400 percent in a 15-year span.
Each death impacts family, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances.
But it doesn’t end there. The misuse and abuse of these drugs is costing Americans over $500 billion, mostly attributed to health care, criminal justice, and lost productivity.
That’s not to mention those taking drugs and getting into a vehicle, which puts everyone on the same roadway at risk, which may adversely impact insurance rates.
The problem belongs to everyone and it’s real. Watch Kati’s story to understand why youths get started and the grip opioids have over their lives.
Because family and friends often notice changes first and can be the first line of defense in preventing a tragedy, look for potential signs of addiction, such as poor coordination, drowsiness, nausea, slurred speech, altered sleeping patterns, mood swings, and slow or shallow breathing.
The road to recovery can be difficult, but must begin with a commitment to quitting. Doctors can help with drugs that reduce opioid cravings and slowly reducing the amount of opioids taken can reduce symptoms of withdrawal.
Once clean, seek additional help. There are many organizations committed to helping those who have addictions and ask family and friends for support.
Individuals may contact the 24-hour National Hotline at (800) 448-3000, the Teen Hotline at (800) 248-8336, and The Hope Unit at email@example.com for Naloxone and help.
For those that haven’t started using opioids without a prescription or are not abusing the directions for a drug’s use, don’t allow pressure to guide you down a path filled with cholla and Teddy bear cactus.
Don’t become one of the statistics used in this column.
If you didn’t know, now you do.