The opioid epidemic is considered a national and international crisis as the effects of addiction are destroying the lives of individuals, their families and communities. While the media often shares stories of those who are trapped inside the epidemic, little is shared about the epidemic itself and what needs to happen to end the crisis.
Why Opioid Use Is Considered an Epidemic
Like other types of addiction, opioid addiction is a public health matter, and key metrics are used to categorize the issue as an epidemic. Opioid addiction is defined as an epidemic based on the number of hospitalizations and deaths that result from addiction to this class of drugs. The issue was identified as a public health crisis in 2017 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
History of the Opioid Epidemic
While heroin has long been a street drug, it did not trigger the current opioid epidemic. Many believe that the introduction of numerous opiate prescription medications in the 1990s was the true catalyst. The development of these new drugs put powerful and highly addictive opiates in the hands of many men and women who were using the drugs for pain relief and other medical problems. These medications were prescribed by physicians. People who began using the drugs as prescribed quickly found that the effects were short-lived and increased their daily dosages. In many cases, prescribing physicians did not monitor the frequency of refills or patient compliance. This was the onset of what evolved into widespread addiction. Soon, the prescription drugs found their way onto the streets, and those who abused prescription drugs found other street drugs that produced better highs. This is how the opioid epidemic got its first hold on the American public, and the problem has escalated year after year.
Prescription Opioid Epidemic
Within the larger opioid public health crisis is a smaller epidemic that involves the abuse of prescription medications that contain some type of opioid. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that in 2018, an estimated 10.3 million people abused opioid prescription medications, and 2 million of those people did so for the first time. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, approximately 75% of people who sought treatment starting in 2000 reported that their addictions were rooted in prescription drug abuse.
At Green Mountain Treatment Center, we have seen the number of people addicted to prescription opioids steadily increase in recent years, and we strive to do our part to address the opioid epidemic in the United States.
Opioid Epidemic Statistics
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 130 people die every day from overdosing on opioid drugs. In a single year, 47,600 people died of opioid overdose. Of the approximately 2 million people who abuse opioids every year, 808,000 people use heroin, and about 10% of these people try heroin for the first time. Of those who used heroin in 2018, 15,349 died of an overdose. As of February 2019, 32,656 people died from overdosing on synthetic opioids, not including methadone that is used to treat opioid addiction.
What Are Opioids?
Opioid drugs are made from natural opium or a synthetic derivative of opium. Opium was once used widely in the field of medicine to treat a range of symptoms, but the use of the drug was stopped once the clinical community realized the highly addictive nature of opiates. Since that time, opium medications continue to be used, but scientists have found ways to better manage the amount of opiates in each prescription medication. Morphine is the most commonly used opiate drug. In times when morphine was in short supply, methadone and other alternatives were developed.
Heroin is the most common opiate drug that is used on the streets. It was first developed as an alternative to morphine and methadone and intended to be less addictive. Heroin was eventually deemed illegal, and it continues to be one of the most common opiates that is abused due to its highly addictive nature.
What Are Some of the Most Common Opioids?
Some of the most common opioid drugs are:
Except for heroin, they are all prescription drugs.
Why the Opioid Epidemic Is Unique?
The number of deaths among opioid abusers is the key differentiation when comparing these types of drugs to alcohol and other substances. Of the more than 50,000 deaths in 2015 from opiates, most were from prescription drugs with heroin being the second most common drug linked to overdose deaths. The number of deaths has continued to climb each year, and there are 10,000 deaths or more in any given year. Another reason that opiates are unique among all drugs that are abused is that anyone can become addicted to an opiate; they are commonly prescribed to people of all ages and socioeconomic status.
Who Is Affected by the Opioid Epidemic?
Two key driving factors behind drugs of choice that lead to addiction are availability of the drug and the interest of an individual to experience a certain type of high. Because opiate addiction stems from responsible prescription drug use in so many cases. In this way, the effects of opiate addiction are far-reaching and spread very quickly. An injured person may not intend to get addicted to their pain medication, but they may soon experience tolerance to the drug and desire to take more and more for their pain. People may find themselves swept up into an addicted lifestyle after simply using a medication that they were legitimately prescribed by their physicians.
Steps to Address the Opioid Epidemic
Green Mountain Treatment Center uses a multi-pronged approach to effectively address addiction to heroin and other opiates. First, we work to raise awareness about the problem. Second, we strive to reduce the stigma around opioid addiction. Third, we offer treatment for those who live with opioid addiction to help them overcome the devastation in their lives.
Raising Awareness About the Opioid Epidemic
Raising awareness about the opioid epidemic and the dangers of prescription drug abuse is vital to addressing the opioid epidemic. Because these types of abuse are linked to prescribed medications, many people do not realize that the drugs are addictive or that their family member or friend has a drug problem. A person may explain that the medications are needed for pain and other medical problems, and this often seems logical, even in the face of an addictive cycle of behavior. Green Mountain Treatment Center educates communities on the signs of opiate addiction with the hope that someone will recognize that a person needs help to overcome a dependence on opiates.
Some of the signs for opiate addiction are:
- Using higher doses that what is shown on the prescription label
- Running out of prescription medications too soon
- Changing behavior, such as loss of interest in family, friends, work and hobbies
- Losing weight and other health issues
- Showing signs of lethargy
- Experiencing irritability and mood swings
- Experiencing frequent bouts of nausea, extreme pain in various areas of the body and other signs of opiate withdrawal
Reducing Stigma About Opioid Addiction
Stigma is a societal behavior pattern in which a person with an addiction is harshly judged without an understanding of their underlying medical condition. Addiction is treated by medical professionals as a disease, and very few people can quit using their drug of choice without professional help. Stigma and fear of painful withdrawal symptoms are the two main reasons why people do not seek treatment for opiate abuse. Treatment is successful when a person feels supported and loved by friends and family, and this is why Green Mountain Treatment Center focuses on all areas of an addicted individual’s life. Reducing stigma takes time as those close to the individual come to understand that once drug use transitions to abuse and addiction, a person is physically dependent on the drug of choice and cannot stop without professional guidance and support.
Offering Treatment for Opioid Addiction
Many people who enter our program at Green Mountain Treatment Center for opioid addiction are confused, angry and depressed. They do not understand how their opiate use evolved into addiction that took over every aspect of their lives. Once we can remove the drugs from their bodies, we can have open and candid dialogues about opioids and the resultant addiction that sets in silently and quickly. We then work with each person to determine the underlying factor that drove their abuse of opiates. It may be physical symptoms or some underlying mental health issue. We also work with recovering individuals to help them overcome any shame or guilt that they feel about their addiction and how their lives were lost along the way.
How Is Opioid Addiction Treated?
At Green Mountain Treatment Center, we tailor each treatment plan to the individual needs of the person who lives with opioid addiction. While addiction may look the same on the surface, each person has contributing factors that led to the addiction to opioids, and we slowly unravel these issues. Treatment plans are implemented through a team of qualified clinicians and social workers who specialize in addiction and opiate abuse. A person may begin with intense individualized counseling coupled with medical management of the physical problems that arise during treatment. Once a person reaches specific goals in the plan, group sessions may be introduced. Because we are a residential drug rehabilitation facility, each person can be in a peaceful and positive environment that lets them focus on regaining control over their life, overcome the detrimental effects of addiction and learn better coping mechanisms to provide a path to long-term sobriety.
Our Approach to the Opioid Epidemic
Medical detox is always the first step in treatment. Eliminating opiates from the body while under direct clinical supervision helps people through the withdrawal symptoms that are the main trigger for relapse soon after trying to get clean. The process also helps the person think clearly about the journey that lies ahead. We use a combination of 12-step programs, clinical modalities and alternative therapies to provide people overcoming addiction with a holistic, multi-faceted solution. They learn to take care of themselves physically, emotionally and spiritually while garnering new skills for social relationships and situations that may trigger their addictions. Once a person recovering from drug abuse gains confidence, a plan is defined to help them with re-entering society.
If you or someone you know is suffering from opioid addiction, reach out to get help today. Remember that you are not alone, and there are people ready to help you with recovery.