In the apparently never-ending war against drug abuse and addiction problems, there is one point of great concern: even as the use and abuse of certain specific drug substances is addressed and reduced, newer, more potent, more addictive and more dangerous drug substances quickly take their place.
The Opioid Epidemic
Opioid drugs work to relieve physical pain by acting directly upon the central nervous system, blocking the receptors that are responsible for communicating physical pain. While one could certainly argue that there is limited usefulness for these drug substances as in the treatment of the severe pain associated with surgery, cancer and other similar conditions, there is also a great chance for abuse, dependence and addiction problems.
In many cases, opioid abuse begins when an individual is prescribed a narcotic painkiller, like OxyContin, Percocet or Dilaudid, by their medical doctor. These medications are often recommended in the treatment of moderate to severe and chronic pain, but the problem is that they cannot actually resolve the source of the pain–they only suppress the pain temporarily while also producing a desirable euphoria. As the individual is not addressing the root cause of his pain, he becomes reliant on his opioid medications in order to manage it. Unfortunately, tolerance and eventually dependence and addiction will force him to abuse these medications and place himself at great risk.
With opioid tolerance, the individual’s body becomes accustomed to the presence of these drug substances, and no longer responds or reacts to them in quite the same way. The individual normally solves this new problem by increasing his quantity and frequency of opioid use, raising it to a new level that can also become tolerated. These higher and higher levels of opioids force the body to restructure how it functions, essentially making opioids part of its normal functioning. This is the point at which the individual becomes dependent upon opioid substances, and will do anything to keep opioids in their system and avoid withdrawal symptoms–even if it means they have to switch to less expensive and more potent street opioids, like heroin. Unfortunately, as these substances also suppress the individual’s breathing, an individual who overdoses on them can quickly move into respiratory arrest and die from lack of oxygen.
Opioid Drug Overdose Fatalities in the U.S.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdose-related deaths reached an all-time high in 2014, with more than forty-seven thousand Americans losing their lives to these chemical substances. That’s more than one and a half percent more deaths than caused in motor vehicle accidents. Heroin and prescription drug overdose deaths are involved in roughly sixty-one percent of all drug overdose deaths. Prescription painkiller overdose deaths rose ten percent in 2014 over the prior year, while heroin overdose deaths rose twenty-six percent and synthetic opioid overdose deaths rose eighty percent over the same time period. West Virginia, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Kentucky and Ohio have the highest rates of opioid overdose deaths, leaving lawmakers and law enforcement officials in those states scrambling for solutions.
It is estimated that nearly half a million Americans have lost their lives to opioid drug overdoses since the year 2000. This makes it more critical than ever for individuals to become better informed about these substances, how they interact with the body, their dangers, and less harmful substitutes that may enable the individual to cope with their symptoms of pain while also addressing their root causes, thereby allowing them to avoid a dangerous and perhaps even deadly path into opioid abuse and addiction.