Recent studies show that the opioid epidemic affects millions of people around the world. In the United States, almost 3,000,000 people who are 12 years or older use opioids, and this class of drugs accounts for more than 20,000 overdose deaths annually.
What are Opioids?
Opioids are a class of narcotics that are used for prescription and illicit drugs. The chemical in opioids that make them effective is derived from poppy flowers. The drugs work by mimicking chemicals in the brain that are responsible for producing feelings of well-being and pleasure, as well as to reduce sensations of pain. These chemicals, known as endorphins, transmit messages between the nerve cells in the brain. Opioids work by replacing endorphins and heightening the experience of pleasure and pain reduction.
What Opioids are Linked to Drug Addiction?
Almost any opioid can be the center of a person’s addiction. The opioid epidemic and related drug addiction crisis focuses primarily on heroin and prescription medications. Other opioids that are linked to addiction are:
- Fentanyl (synthetic opioid)
- Hydrocodone (Vicodin®)
Opioid drug addiction is one of this country’s leading public health crises. As early as 12 years old, children are experimenting with heroin and other opioids. The American Society of Addiction Medicine reports that approximately one in four people who use heroin become addicted to opioids, and 80% of those who first use heroin will begin to abuse prescription opioids.
Opioid Use Among Teenagers
More than 275,000 children between 12 and 17 years old use pain medications for non-medical purposes, and almost 125,000 of these children are addicted to opioids.
More than 20,000 children between 12 and 17 years old have tried heroin, and approximately 25% of these children still use the drug.
Studies show that approximately 6,000 children between 12 and 17 years old are addicted to heroin each year.
Women and Opioid Use
Because women experience chronic pain more often than men, they are at higher risk for developing opioid misuse, abuse and addiction. Almost 50,000 women died of overdoses of pain medications from 1999 to 2010, and the number of these overdoes among women increased by 400% compared to 237% for men.
Heroin addiction is also affecting women disproportionately compared to men. The overdose death rates among women has tripled.
Recent statistics reveal that an estimated 115 people die each day from opioid overdoses. The opioid crisis costs taxpayers more than $75 million each year for addiction treatment, healthcare, lost productivity in the workplace and involvement of law enforcement and the judicial system.
From July 2016 to September 2017, opioid overdoses increased by 30% nationally. Unlike other illicit drugs, the overdose rates are not necessarily highest in the inner cities. During the same time period, the Midwestern states that are largely rural say a 70% increase in opioid overdoses. The largest cities in the country say an 54% increase in opioid-related overdoses.
Newborns and the Opioid Crisis
Opioids became a public health crisis when neonatal abstinence syndrome was noted in a higher number of newborns. The syndrome is the result of women using opioids while they are pregnant. Studies have shown that every 25 minutes a baby is born who is addicted to opioids. This translates into more than 20,000 babies each year, and this represents a 500% increase from 2000 to 2012.
HIV and Hepatitis C
HIV and Hepatitis C transmissions have been linked to the opioid crisis. Sharing needles is one of the top reasons that these diseases are transmitted among opioid users. A second reason is that euphoric experience of opioid use affects a person’s judgment and increases the likelihood of engaging in risky behaviors, such as unprotected sex.
Detox and Rehab for Opioids
Opioids are highly addictive substances, and their use in prescription medications makes the opioid crisis more challenging. The opioid crisis emphasizes the need for effective drug addiction treatment that provides persons who are addicted to these drugs with a long-term recovery strategy. Medical detox and rehab contribute to the reversal of the opioid crisis by helping those who are addicted to these drugs to learn better life skills and make healthier decisions throughout their lifetimes.