In 2018, 10.3 million people misused their prescription opioids. Of those people, almost 2 million were diagnosed as having an opioid addiction.
The statistics of America’s opioid history are shocking and tragic. In the U.S., the misuse of and addiction to opioids is now considered a national crisis. Public health is at extreme risk.
There are other far-reaching outcomes as well, such as a negative impact on the social and economic welfare of the country.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that the economic burden adds up to $78.5 billion a year in the United States.
So, how did this happen? How did we let an epidemic spiral out of control, unchecked in the United States?
In this article, we’ll cover the basics of opioid history in America and how it became an epidemic with sweeping death tolls.
Opioid History: A Three-Act Play
The opioid epidemic didn’t occur overnight. There are reliable ways to overcome addiction, but like most epidemics, the first warning signs were ignored, allowing it to grow at a steady rate.
Opioid misuse dates back over a century and a half ago to the Civil War. Between 1861 and 1865, medics used morphine on wounded soldiers. Those same soldiers grew dependent on the drug fast.
Morphine addiction swept across the country in the following years. To help combat this addiction, the Bayer Company created heroin in 1898, believing it to be less habit-forming.
This horrific error made by well-meaning physicians compounded the growing addiction problem in America and laid the foundations for the opioid epidemic we’re experiencing now. The modern opioid history occurred in three waves.
In 1991, deaths related to opioids started rising. This was in direct correlation with physicians prescribing more opioid medications for the treatment of pain.
Opioid prescriptions rose because pharmaceutical companies reassured doctors and the country as a whole that the risk of addiction was low. The new drug OxyContin by Purdue Pharma broke out onto the scene and was marketed heavily.
These pharmaceutical companies threw all of their money and resources into pushing their new wonder drug. They lobbied lawmakers, sponsored medical education courses, funded patient organizations, and sent representatives to visit physicians face-to-face.
Throughout all of this, pharmaceutical companies stressed that their prescription opioids were safe and had low potential for addiction. This grievous lie caught up to Purdue Pharma in 2007, when they plead guilty to misleading the public about the drug’s risk of addiction and paid a fine of over $600 million.
The year 2010 marked the second wave of the opioid epidemic.
Early efforts to get opioid addiction and prescribing under control started to get underway. These efforts have the unintended effect of driving desperate people to try heroin.
As their opioid prescription either became harder to obtain or more expensive to buy, more and more turned to heroin (an illegal and potent opioid) for their dependency needs.
Deaths from heroin abuse rose at a rapid rate. By 2013, deaths from heroin overdose had increased by 286%.
The third wave began in 2013.
The rising use of synthetic opioid fentanyl marked the third wave. By 2016, the United States saw the sharpest rise in overdose deaths. Over 20,000 people lost their lives from misusing fentanyl and other opioid-related drugs.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid so powerful that it can shut down breathing in under a minute. Between 2013 and 2016, overdose deaths related to fentanyl underwent a 113% annual increase.
What’s Being Done About the Epidemic?
In an effort to get the opioid crisis under control, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is now focusing on five major priorities:
Improving access to treatment and recovery services
Promoting the use of drugs that help with reversing the effects of overdosing
Strengthening public awareness of the epidemic
Providing support for pain and addiction research
Advancing better practices to help with pain management
1. Access to Treatment and Recovery Services
HHS sent letters to every governor in the United States, announcing $484 million in grants for the building of treatment and recovery establishments.
These grants are also meant to help with training health professionals, making technological investments, and supporting prescription drug monitoring programs in each state.
2. Opioid Overdose Reversal Drugs
The grants given out are also to be used to help with the production of naloxone. Naloxone is used to help revive Americans near death from overdose.
3. Public Health Awareness
HHS is working together with Customs and Border Protection to intercept shipments of opioids. When a shipment is halted near a city, these organizations alert local authorities and public health officials so they can prepare for possible overdoses.
4. Pain and Addiction Research
Programs like the CDC’s Data-Driven Prevention Initiative and Enhanced State Opioid Overdose Surveillance Program are issuing grants to each state to help with tracking opioid statistics and respond in real-time to each problem as it arises.
5. Pain Management
Work is being done to change how physicians help patients with their pain management. Prescribing medication with a high risk for dependency-forming behavior to manage non-cancer pain is no longer acceptable.
The National Pain Strategy has been created with the intent to research evidence-based ways to help manage pain and assist physicians and patients in making responsible choices.
Take Control of Your Health
Addiction is a terrible thing to battle alone. It can destroy your life and family before you know it. America’s opioid history spans decades, but proactive steps are now being taken to prevent it.
If you find yourself fighting an opioid addiction, then consider looking into the BioCorRx Recovery Program. We have a team of trained professionals ready to assist you in freeing yourself from the pain of addiction.
We have Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) to help reduce cravings for opioids. Our program blends medical management by a physician with our proprietary CBT program and peer support.
This combined approach creates a collaborative program meant to support you. With multiple touchpoints from different specialists, more people are accountable and invested in the successful treatment of your addiction.