By Emmy Markos
Read any news stream or watch any news broadcast and you’re likely to hear about a disease that’s killing dozens of Americans every day. It’s not cancer and it’s completely avoidable. It’s the extreme crisis of America’s opioid addiction. Serious injuries, surgeries, and harsh or terminal diseases are a common occurrence and opioid medications are typically the prescribed pain reliever. In 2017, there was an average of fifty-eight prescription opioids prescribed for everyone hundred Americans. The reason opioids are prescribed is that they trigger the release of endorphins which then muffle the body’s perception of pain causing the body to feel good. This relieving of pain from the opioids wears off with time and the body wants more. These cravings are the first signs of addiction. A major problem is once the body consumes more doses, it’ll slow its production of endorphins and grow tolerant of the current dose. Tolerance is the main reason why opioid addiction is so common. This is because once the body grows tolerant, the opioid user will continue to increase their doses in order to feel a constant rush of endorphins. One in four patients receiving long-term opioid therapy in a primary care setting struggle with opioid addiction.
Studies show that from 1999 to 2016, more than two hundred thousand people died in the United States from prescription opioid-related overdoses. From that two hundred thousand, 2016’s deaths were five times higher than 1999’s. Also, in 2016, more than 40% of all opioid overdose-related deaths involved a prescription opioid and more than forty-six people would die every single day from opioid addiction alone.
So, how does a whole country stall an opioid epidemic long enough to end it? Some steps are already in action. United States officials are one leading force in this process of elimination with their push on Beijing officials to shut down the Zheng drug trafficking organization. This Shanghai-based network is responsible for much of the opioid supply in the United States. This organization runs labs that produce over sixteen tons of illicit chemicals, such as, synthetic narcotics and the deadly fentanyl, a month. Although this Shanghai-based network is almost impossible to bust, officials are working very closely to shut it down. Another highly driven force in the fight to end this epidemic is the Needle and Syringe (Exchange) Programs. These programs provide clean needles and syringes to drug users to reduce blood-borne viruses from spreading through shared utensils. These programs support safer injection practices, aid avoidance, and management of overdoses, safe handling, and disposal of utensils, provide referrals to HIV testing, and many more strategies. These programs are just the tip of the iceberg since they aren’t universally accepted or properly funded, mainly due to the controversy of them supporting, theoretically, drug use. Lastly, doctors are changing their prescription amounts. Many patients are prescribed too much of an opioid medication after surgery or injury, which then leads to higher rates of addiction or large amounts of leftover opioid pills ending up in the hands of people who will misuse them. For example, a patient is prescribed somewhere around fifty pills (two hundred and fifty milligrams) after surgery or a serious injury and some either take less than ten pills or don’t take any at all and then they’re left with dangerous pills that they don’t know how to correctly dispose of.
An epidemic this intense can be stopped, but in order for this to happen, more people need to be educated on the devastation it has caused. Thousands of Americans are dying each year because of an addiction they think they can’t stump. If forty-six people were to die a day from murder or the flu, there would be an outcry to end it, but since this epidemic is drug-related, many think the fate is in the hands of the addicted. Its fate is in the hands of all of America.