Drug overdoses are the leading cause of death for Americans under 50, and public health officials say the current opioid epidemic is the worst drug crisis in American history.
The abuse of and addiction to opioids such as heroin, morphine, and prescription pain relievers is a serious global problem that affects the health, social, and economic welfare of all societies. It is estimated that between 26.4 million and 36 million people abuse opioids worldwide,with an estimated 2.1 million people in the United States suffering from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers in 2012 and an estimated 467,000 addicted to heroin. (NIDA)
According to Daniel Victor, author of the article “As Many as 4 Are Dead in Drug Overdoses in Georgia”, “Drug overdose deaths have increased more than 500 percent since 1990”. This staggering statistic shows the alarming number of deaths due to drug overdose in our society today. “Opioid deaths — including from heroin, which some people turn to after starting with prescription painkillers — reached a record 28,647 in 2014, according to the most recent federal statistics” (Tavernise). According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse:
Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, and many others. These drugs are chemically related and interact with opioid receptors on nerve cells in the body and brain.
Opioid use in the United States is becoming one of the main causes of addiction and death. However, often times people do not consider opioids to be as dangerous as other drugs. According to “C.D.C. Painkiller Guidelines Aim to Reduce Addiction Risk”, “We lose sight of the fact that the prescription opioids are just as addictive as heroin,” he said. “Prescribing opioids is really a momentous decision, and I think that has been lost” (Tavernise). In the United States, the number of deaths attributed to drug use have increased significantly. “There were likely more than 59,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2016, the largest annual jump ever recorded, according to preliminary data. In 2015, there were more deaths from heroin alone than gun homicides” (Victor).
The current drug epidemic is destroying communities and breaking apart families in the United States. “Drug abuse is a major public health problem that impacts society on multiple levels. Directly or indirectly, every community is affected by drug abuse and addiction, as is every family. Drugs take a tremendous toll on our society at many levels” (NIDA). According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, many of the top social issues facing the United States today are due to reliance on drugs and opioids. For example, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that approximately 10 to 22 percent of drivers involved in car crashes are due to driving under the influence of drugs (NIDA). Other social issues that are caused by drug addictions include violence, stress, and child abuse. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that “at least half of the individuals arrested for major crimes including homicide, theft, and assault were under the influence of illicit drugs around the time of their arrest.” However, the lasting effects of drugs go beyond these social issues. “Drug abuse impacts the individual, family, and community. Everybody knows someone who is affected by drug abuse” (NIDA). Examples of impacts on the individuals involved in taking drugs include mental illness, injuries, and even death. Each year approximately 40 million debilitating illnesses or injuries occur among Americans as the result of their use of tobacco, alcohol, or another addictive drug (NIDA). There are also lasting effects on communities in the United States as a result of drug addiction. For example, according to the NIDA, “31% of America’s homeless suffer from drug abuse.” In addition, the education systems in our communities are also being heavily influenced by the drug epidemic in our country. “Children with prenatal cocaine exposure are more likely (1.5 times) to need special education services in school. Special education costs for this population are estimated at $23 million per year” (NIDA). Drug abuse does not only affect the individual, it also has serious and life-threatening consequences for families and the community as a whole.
In an effort to curb what many consider to be the worst public health drug crisis in decades, the federal government is attempting to organize a plan that will decrease drug use in the United States. According to Abby Goodnough, author of the article “$45 Billion to Fight Opioid Use? That’s Much Too Little Experts Say”, “The Senate leadership’s efforts to salvage the Republican health care bill have focused in part on adding $45 billion for states to spend on opioid addiction treatment.” Throughout her article, Goodnough acknowledges that this money is a step in the right direction; however, she goes on to discuss the fact that this amount of money is just the tip of the iceberg. “That is a big pot of money. But addiction specialists said it was drastically short of what would be needed to make up for the legislation’s deep cuts to Medicaid, which has provided treatment for hundreds of thousands of people caught up in a national epidemic of opioid abuse” (Goodnough). Goodnough discusses the fact that while this grant would be beneficial in addressing issues related to recovery and treatment, it would not be able to address the multitude of other problems that the drug epidemic is bringing into our homes and communities.
Public health experts are concerned that grants aimed at treatment and recovery would not address a multitude of other physical health problems associated with addiction. One glaring example is hepatitis C, a blood-borne virus endemic among people who use needles to inject illicit drugs. Treatment is extremely expensive, but Medicaid has expanded access to it in many states. Many addicts also suffer from diabetes and other chronic conditions, or get endocarditis, a serious heart infection connected to intravenous drug use. (Goodnough)
In addition to the need for funds to help provide treatment and recovery options for drug abusers, the C.D.C. has also enacted a plan that they believe is a proactive step toward a decline in drug use in the United States. Sabrina Tavernise states, “In an effort to curb what many consider the worst public health drug crisis in decades, the federal government on Tuesday published the first national standards for prescription painkillers, recommending that doctors try pain relievers like ibuprofen before prescribing the highly addictive pills, and that they give most patients only a few days’ supply.” The federal government believes that this proactive approach will drastically help to eliminate the drug epidemic. According to Dr. Andrew Kolodny, the head of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, “It’s one of the most significant interventions by the federal government…It would be hard for me to overstate how thrilling it is to read these guidelines after all these years,” said Dr. Carl R. Sullivan III, director of the addictions program at West Virginia University, whose state has been a center of the epidemic. This is a very big deal. These prescribing practices have been an embarrassment for so long (Tavernise). ”In order to further explain this new plan, Tavernise states,
The guidelines recommend what many addiction experts have long called for: that doctors first try ibuprofen and aspirin to treat pain, and that opioid treatment for short-term pain last for three days, and rarely longer than seven. That is far less than current practice, in which patients are often given two weeks’ or a month’s worth of pills.
While this new plan is still evolving and changing in order to best serve the American population, the government is in agreement that something has to change; a plan must be enacted. “We need to set up a system to make sure they are covered. But we cannot continue the prescription practice of opioids the way we have been. We just can’t” (Tavernise).
The drug epidemic in the United States is rapidly increasing, causing enormous hardships to be placed on our communities. Drugs have become one of the leading causes of death in our country, causing thousands of injuries and deaths each year. The drug epidemic reaches beyond the individual consuming the drugs, it extends into our families and communities as a whole. There are serious social effects, including violence, homelessness, child and domestic abuse, strains on the education system, etc. caused by drug addiction. The United States federal government, as well as the C.D.C. have developed plans for fighting this epidemic. The federal government is proposing grants to aid recovery and treatment for addicts, while the C.D.C. is taking more of a proactive approach by enacting painkiller guidelines.