The opioid epidemic in America has taken hold and is not on its way out anytime soon. Perhaps the hardest hit is Montgomery County, Ohio where law enforcement and local government are doing their best to wage war on the epidemic. Known as the “overdose capital of America,” the county sees more drug deaths than any other county in the country. In fact, the opioid problem has gotten so extreme that Ohio State Attorney General, Mike DeWine, is suing five prescription opioid drug manufacturers for the role they have played in the staggering number of opioid-related deaths.
While the current opioid street drugs that are plaguing Montgomery County are believed to be trafficked in from China (the world’s largest illegal exporter of the opioid Fentanyl) via Mexico, the opioid problem began two decades ago with prescription painkillers.
How the Opioid Epidemic Became So Extreme
The opioid epidemic that the country is currently experiencing cannot be blamed solely on illegal drugs like heroin. The problem began back in the 1990s with a perfectly legal one.
At that time, pain management was beginning to be treated by doctors as a serious medical condition. It is reported that about a third of adult Americans suffer from chronic pain, so it is easy to understand why this concern took hold in the medical community.
Unfortunately, several pharmaceutical companies used this concern to their advantage. They began to market – extensively and ubiquitously – pain medication like OxyContin, Percocet, and other opioids to doctors as a solution to chronic pain. This was done even though there was very little evidence to support using these opioids for long-term pain, despite the effectiveness of their use for short-term, acute pain.
Use of the opioid painkillers flourished, with prescriptions for those with chronic pain multiplying year over year. Sadly, the drugs were not only in the hands of the patients for whom they were prescribed – they were available to any teen that had access to their parents’ medicine cabinet, friends and family with whom the drugs were shared, and illegally on the streets.
Finally, officials began to take note of the rise in opioid abuse, addiction, and overdoses, and they started to crack down on painkiller prescriptions. Doctors were threatened with losing their medical licenses and even incarceration if they failed to prescribe opioids responsibly. This new scrutiny forced many doctors to stop prescribing opioids so freely and to review patients’ medical records for indications of past drug abuse before prescribing.
Unfortunately, many patients were already addicted. When they could no longer refill prescriptions for their painkillers, they turned to cheaper, stronger opioids like heroin and fentanyl.
Though this scenario is not consistent among all opioid users, it was the case for many. In a study reported on by the Journal of the American Medical Association, it was found that many prescription painkiller patients were moving on to heroin. Additionally, an analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2015 found that people who become addicted to painkillers are 40 times more likely to become addicted to heroin.
Those statistics shouldn’t lead us to believe that regulating the prescription of opioid painkillers was a mistake. It has had some beneficial results – while opioid deaths as a whole have increased, the rise in the number of deaths due to prescription opioids has slowed. It may also have prevented a whole new generation of pain sufferers from becoming addicted.
Are There Any Solutions?
Clearly, the best solution for current opioid addicts is to get them into treatment and hope for successful recovery. However, in a 2014 report, it was determined that 89 percent of individuals who meet the criteria for a drug abuse disorder diagnosis did not receive treatment. There are many factors that contribute to that statistic, including denial on the part of the drug abuse, financial issues, and concern about the stigma associated with drug addiction. Many people with drug abuse disorders also complained about the accessibility to treatment and long waiting periods for care.
Other solutions, or at least improvements, include:
Improving opioid painkiller prescribing to reduce the overall exposure to opioids, prevent potential abuse, and decrease addiction.
Expand access to treatment for those suffering from substance abuse disorders.
Increase the access and use of naloxone, an antidote that can reverse opioid overdose.
Work with state and local public health agencies, medical examiners, and law enforcement to improve the detection of trends regarding illegal opioid use.
Work to reduce the stigma of addiction with education, communication, and awareness.
Finding the Right Treatment
While we wait to see what the outcome of the lawsuits in Ohio is, the focus needs to be on treatment and recovery for opioid addicts. The relapse rates for heroin and other opioids is very high, making long-term, the intensive treatment necessary in most cases. However, recovery from opioid addiction is possible for those who are willing to take the first step – seeking treatment, and then making a commitment to living a life of recovery.
At Summit Behavioral Health we are waging war on this epidemic. Through the treatment of not only the drug addiction but Co-occurring disorders as well. We are the Detox facility that truly cares. Our depth of understanding and willingness to do whatever it takes to facilitate the path in which a person becomes free from the addiction is unmatched. The Professional and Medically supervised approach attached to a Holistic atmosphere equips the struggling to gain victory over their addiction. Don’t wait for the call today. Our behavioral health professionals are standing by at 1-855-855-9199.
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Learn more about Detoxing From Opioids Holistically And Medically in our previous blog post