Opiate addiction has in recent years emerged as a topic of major concern in the United States. With prescription opiate painkiller addiction being perhaps one of the biggest drug problems today, there is major concern surrounding the issue of opiate medications and their subsequent effects. So who exactly uses opiates and why are opiate prescriptions everyone’s problem?
Who forms the bulk of opiate users?
Medical opioids are prescribed for the management of pain, which can be mild, moderate or severe. In weaker forms, opioids such as codeine are used in low doses often in combination with one or more other drug formulations in cough syrup which is commonly available without a prescription.
Opioids are known to be quite effective for the treatment of acute pain for example pain that comes after a surgery. They are often the treatment of choice where immediate relief of moderate to severe acute pain is needed thanks to their efficacy and rapid onset. A majority of opioid users are in palliative care suffering from forms of severe, chronic, and disabling pain that is characteristic of terminal ailments such as cancer. Degenerative conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis also fall into the same category. There is, however, the issue of dependence.
Why are opiate painkillers everyone’s’ problem?
Opiate prescriptions are surprisingly easy to obtain. What’s even worse, prescription opiate abuse is far more likely to degenerate into a heroin addiction compared to non-opiate abuse. Heroin is documented to have “a similar high” to common opiate painkillers such as Percocet, oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, and tramadol but at a cheaper price.
Long-term use of opiate painkillers puts presents the risk of addiction, even if the drugs are prescribed. Prolonged use of opiates leads to tolerance, a phenomenon that has been linked to the cycle of opiate addiction. Tolerance means that the opiate painkiller used no longer has the same effect as it once did which forces the individual to take more and more of the substance to get the desired effect.
Therein lies the problem. The ever-increasing dosages place the user at a great risk of overdosing and death. There are numerous health conditions associated with opioid use which include respiratory depression, hormonal imbalance and a host of other rarer adverse conditions.
There have been increased efforts to reduce opioid use against a backdrop of concerns of addiction and accidental overdosing. Numerous medical and government advisory groups have called for prescription drug monitoring programs to help identify incidences of suspicious opioid use.
It is reported that up to 115 people die every day from opioid overdoses in the United States alone. These statistics describe a national crisis that negatively impacts public health as well as the social and economic welfare. The CDC estimates that 78.5 billion dollars go towards covering the cost of healthcare, addiction treatment, lost productivity, and criminal justice involvement every year. The total "economic burden" of prescription opioid misuse in the United States is significant judging by the numbers which makes it quite serious.
Additional statistics on prescription opioid use.
It is estimated that 21% to 29% of prescription opioid users misuse them.
About 8% to 12% of opioid painkiller users experience an opioid use disorder.
A whopping 6% of prescription opioid users who abuse prescription opioids finally transition to heroin use.
80% of recovering heroin addicts admit to starting out with abuse of prescription opioids.
Opioid painkiller overdose cases keep rising which calls for stricter measures and policies to control their use. All in all, opiate use has considerable health and socio-economic effects that are too far-reaching to ignore.