By Matthew King
Opium has cemented itself in history within different civilizations dating as far back as 3,400 B.C. It’s uses varied with aiding sleep and calming nerves but its most common use is as a pain reliever (Editors, 2017) Today Opioids take the form of prescription pills such as Hydrocodone and Oxycodone, Morphine, Heroin and the most recent synthetic version: Fentanyl. As of now America is facing an ever-increasing opioid epidemic that effects millions and results in the deaths of thousands per year. Of the population involved with Opioids, Young adults are the biggest abusers of prescription pills.
This Epidemic started in America in the early 90s. During this time Pharmaceutical companies and Medical associations promoted opioids as nonaddictive forms of pain relief. This led to the significant increase of prescriptions for these medications.( Opioid Overdose Crisis, 2019) While making these drugs easily available and quickly mass produced before proper data and information was acquired, they spread quickly to those who didn’t need a drug of this intensity and those that were not prescribed it at all. Since then the deaths related to Opioid overdoses has increased with over 400,000 people dying since 1999 (History of the Opioid Epidemic, n.d) In recent years it has become the most common cause of death for adults under 50.
The typical way for an Opioid addiction to start is with an injury. When seeking medical attention, the individual is prescribed an opiate for pain relief. The opiate relieves pain but releases a chemical in the brain that makes them happy, Endorphins. (Prescription Opioids. n.d) As the individual heals, they continue to take the prescription despite needing it for pain or not, because the effects cause euphoria. As a tolerance builds, they take more and more to feel good and this creates an addiction from their dependence on the drug. Once the prescription runs out or the pills become too expensive to maintain addiction the individual is faced with withdrawal. While many seek help, an increasing number seek out something stronger and cheaper. This solution is Heroin, a natural form of Opium. Heroin use increased in the late 2000s as the government started to take control over opiate prescriptions. This drove those with a preexisting addiction to seek illegal means of attaining their high leading to higher overdose rates. In 2013 the Synthetic Opioid, Fentanyl, took over as an even cheaper but extremely more potent and dangerous alternative. Heroin was cut with little amounts of it but users started just taking Fentanyl (History of the Opioid epidemic, n.d). As efforts are being made to dramatically decrease these threats, Fentanyl related deaths continue to increase rapidly while prescription opiates and Heroin are starting to lower their increase in death rates (Opioid Overdose, 2018)
The Opioid epidemic embodies itself within young adults most commonly through prescriptions. This form is most common because it is easier to obtain and a less intimidating gateway than Fentanyl or Heroin. The reason young adults get into these pills is because they may be depressed, curious or just want to have a good time. The pills make one feel numb and bring them happiness. It seems harmless and helpful until they become dependent. In 2014 1,700 died due to overdosing on prescription opiates. These drugs are used nonmedically for recreation. In the same year 12% of young adults did this which is the highest of any other age group (Drugs Affects Young Adults Most, 2016) This type of use breeds the future use of other illegal drugs including other opioids. While older age groups use prescribed opiates the most, the younger ones misuse them the even more.
As the misuse of opioids plagues adults 18 -25 years old, they are more susceptible to crime.(Drugs Affects Young Adults Most, 2016)The fact that they are buying and using these prescriptions is illegal but when they open the door to other drugs or are strained to find a way to make ends meet for their addiction, they turn to crime. When procuring Heroin, the individual is more vulnerable and faces a higher risk in the justice system ( Opioid Addiction and the Criminal Justice System, n.d) Heroin is higher on Americas list of dangerous drugs than prescription pills. Meaning the legal actions will be higher and can destroy some one’s life. Another cause for crime can be the lack of funds to maintain the addiction that causes an individual to commit crimes such as robbery or murder to keep up. Once in jail for the crimes committed their addiction is rarely treated. There are drugs that can be provided to help. However, most prisons do not utilize them even though roughly half are afflicted with a substance use disorder. It is for this reason that when released the inmate continues to abuse drugs and is 12 times more likely to die within their first two weeks after release from a drug overdose.
This issue does not seem to have an end in sight, but the government and many organizations are heading the fight against this epidemic. The U.S department of Health and Human Services is countering the wave of abuse by working on five points that intend to eradicate the dangers. The first is improving the availability if treatment for those afflicted with addiction so that someone seeking help can easily find it and start recovery. The second is the promotion of drugs that can reverse the effects of an overdose and prevent organ failure in the midst of an attack. Another point they’re focusing on is educating the public on the problem as to help prevent people from falling into the cycle and to provide a warning for those who still have a fighting chance to stop. They’ve also been funding research on pain and addiction to create methods that help with greater efficiency. Their fifth point is to advance better practices for pain management so that opioids don’t seem like the best option when getting prescribed medicine. Other organizations such as the Opioid Awareness Coalition and Allied Against Opioid Abuse are spread around the US advocating for safer alternatives and educating communities on the severity of this issue.( Opioid Overdose Crisis, 2019) Locally, Tampa’s Opioid Research Network provides this presence in our community. Visiting their website allows Tampa residents to participate in this non-profit organization’s events as well as receive any news or updates involving their efforts. The team also provides support for afflicted individuals to steer them towards the help they need through rehabilitation or detox retreats which provide aid for a healthier lifestyle (Opioid Research Network, n.d)
Opioids have America in a stranglehold by being both highly addictive and dangerous. Introduced as a nonaddictive form of pain relief quickly led to increasing overdose related death for the next several years. While most are obtained by a medical prescription, Young adults buy and abuse these pills, nonmedically, the most. This addiction leads to use of the new threat Fentanyl. While synthetic Opioids are the now the biggest killers, huge strides are being made through scientific research and educational programs to combat the gross misuse of Opiates. The drug gets cheaper and more powerful, but powers are assuming responsibility for the public to truly have this issue understood.
Header photo by RivermendHealth.
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