How Did The Opioid Epidemic Begin?

If you’ve watched the news at some point over the past year you have no doubt heard about our nation’s opioid crisis. For anyone who doesn’t, the situation is getting worse every day, thousands of lives are lost to overdose.

When we think of opioids we often think of heroin, and although that is part of the problem that is only one small piece. The drugs primarily involved in this epidemic are actually prescription opioids in the form of painkillers such as:

  • OxyContin (Oxycodone)
  • Percocet (Acetaminophine)
  • Vicodin (Hydrocodone)
  • Percodan (Aspirin)
  • Tylox (Oxycodone)
  • Demerol (Meperidine)


How bad is it?

In 2016 more than 11 million Americans abused prescription opioids while another 1 million used heroin. Of that group at least 64,000 died from an overdose, which is the highest number ever recorded in the United States in a single year. Although last year was the worst in history, opioid related deaths are nothing new, more than 300,000 Americans have died from an opioid overdose since 2000.

What caused it?

To most of us it seems like this epidemic came out of nowhere and for no understandable reason, but in reality the problem began in the late 90’s with good intentions.

Typically doctors did not like to prescribe strong opioids to anyone that was not in serious pain due to how easily someone can become addicted, but that changed in the 1990’s when the American Pain Society declared that patients with pain were not being treated correctly. They believed that all patients should have a chance for pain relief through opioids, not just people with serious injuries or clinical illnesses such as cancer.

Shortly after that in 2001, the largest and most influential healthcare accrediting organization in the U.S. known as the Joint Commission, adopted the protocol in which pain was to be regularly assessed in all patients.

Because pain tolerance is different with each person doctors had to trust the word of their patient on what their level of pain truly was. When we are in pain however, we most of the time tend to say that the pain is worse than it actually is, because we want relief and that put medical professionals in a predicament.

This meant that physicians were prescribing highly addictive opioids to many patients that reported having severe pain even though they didn’t need them. There was no way to contest if the patient was actually equivalent to the level of pain they described since pain is subjective, and addicts knew this. People learned that all they had to do was pretend that they were in pain and they would get their prescription to fulfill their addiction.

This is only one part of the epidemic however, another large contributor to the problem was the marketing efforts of pharmaceutical companies such as Purdue Pharma (the creator of OxyContin).

When OxyContin was first introduced to the public in 1996 it produced $48 million in sales, but just four years later sales increased all the way to $1.1 billion due to the aggressive marketing campaigns by Purdue Pharma. One of these successful campaigns was convincing doctors and other physicians that OxyContin was safe and less addictive than other opioids. Since many medical professionals were paid off by pharmaceuticals like Purdue Pharma they would recommend OxyContin to the FDA whenever they were asked about opioids, causing the public to trust these addictive painkillers.
Purdue Pharma promoted the opioid as if it was any other company selling a product and disregarded the addictive effects that come along with it. Part of their $207 million marketing budget included developing a list of doctors that prescribed the most opioids and then targeting them with marketing tactics from sales reps who would receive large bonuses to increase OxyContin prescriptions.

The sad thing is that many of the people that overdosed from opioids over the past few years never planned on getting addicted and were simply taking the advice of their doctor, but as more and more pills were sold to them, the patients began relying on them. Once they were fully addicted and needed increased amounts of pills to get their desired feeling money started to become an issue and prescription pills were just not an option anymore. This is when many people are forced to convert from prescription pills to heroin. In fact, this is one of the most typical and heartbreaking stories we hear day to day.

Why switch to heroin? It simple, heroin is cheaper and much easier to get than prescription pills. You don’t need a prescription written by a doctor, not to mention, heroin tends to be much more potent. Heroin is already an extremely dangerous drug but since it is often bought on the street it does not have any usage or dosage information which is very dangerous for new users who don’t know what they’re doing. The opioid epidemic is growing worse because of this process of people turning to Heroin after prescription painkillers and eventually overdosing.

The solution to this epidemic is simple. Society needs to recognize that these unfortunate people are not the criminals, but actually the victims. A majority of addicts would do nearly anything to get out of the continuous loop of immeasurable suffering.  They need effective treatment that takes into account each person’s situation and teaches them how to go through life healthy and drug free.

If you’re looking to get help for your addiction or the addiction of someone you know, call us now at [maxbutton id=”1″ ]  and our treatment specialists will listen to your individual situation and get you into a program that is perfect for you. We’re here to help you and we’re available 24/7.

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