opioid epidemic
The opioid epidemic. It’s a real crisis in today’s society. Every day, 130 people across the United States die of a drug overdose. 91% of these deaths are because of opioids, and the epidemic doesn’t discriminate. From young children to elderly citizens, this epidemic affects individuals of all races, financial backgrounds, and demographics.The fast rise in opioid-related deaths has sparked a dire need for awareness, education, and resources across our Nation. That’s why it’s important we all understand what opioids are, the impact of the opioid epidemic, and how we can help combat this addiction crisis. Let’s start with important facts everyone should know about this crisis.

10 Facts Everyone Needs to Know About the Opioid Epidemic

Before you can work to prevent yourself or those you love from falling victim to this epidemic, you need to understand some basic facts about opioids. Here are 10 facts to help you understand more about the potential impact of opioid abuse.

1.          What are opioids?

Opioids are narcotic medications used to reduce pain. They can also be referred to as “pain killers.” They work by binding themselves to a specific brain receptor that is the source of your feeling of pain. Once they are bound to the pain-sourcing brain receptor, they minimize your body’s perception of that pain.

2.          What are the common types of opioids?

The most common types of opioid medications include:
  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl
  • Hydrocodone
  • Hydrocodone/Acetaminophen or Vicodin
  • Hydromorphone
  • Meperidine or Demerol
  • Methadone
  • Morphine
  • Oxycodone
  • Oxycodone/Acetaminophen or Percocet
  • Oxycodone/Naloxone
The drugs are prescribed by a doctor and come in prescription pill form. This is true for all the opioids listed above with the exception of Fentanyl which comes as a patch.

3.          How are opioids related to heroin?

Individuals who become addicted to opioids often report that they eventually switch to heroin use. In fact, 4 out of 5 people who are addicted to heroin say their addiction started with prescription opioid use. This is why the opioid epidemic has been so rampant. Since heroin is chemically similar to prescription opioids, it affects the body and brain in the same way. The biggest attraction those addicted to opioids find from heroin is that it is cheaper and easier to access.

4.          What are the risks of opioid use?

As with any prescription drug, opioids come with several risks and potential side effects. Even when taken as directed, opioid use can lead to sensitivity to pain, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and confusion. The more a person uses opioids, the higher the risk they have of developing a tolerance to the drugs. This can cause a person to stop breathing as they become desperate to get the same high they did the first time they used the drug.

5.          How big is the opioid epidemic?

The opioid epidemic is growing rapidly. Despite aggressive efforts to combat this problem, the issue continues to grow. Between 2011 and 2015, opioids overdose deaths in the United States tripled. BY 2014, Americans were more likely to die from opioid overdose than from a car accident. The most recent study of opioid-related deaths reported that 47,600 people died in the United States in 2017.

6.          How does someone die from a drug overdose?

When a person ingests too many opioid painkillers, they can experience slowed breathing, confusion, and lack of oxygen to the brain. This can eventually lead to death. Opioid overdoses are even more common when alcohol, sedatives, or other opioid painkillers are taken alongside the opioid drugs. When a person takes too much of their prescription medication or mixes certain types of prescribed drugs, overdose occurs.

7.          What increases the chance of an opioid overdose?

There are several factors that can increase the chance of an opioid overdose. These include using multiple substances, consuming an opioid drug that is too strong, tolerance level, age, other health conditions or medications taken.

8.          Can anything stop an opioid overdose?

As the opioid epidemic became more of a problem, educational resources became readily available to try to stop the problem. Naloxone, commonly known as Narcan, is a medication most members of society have at least heard about. Naloxone is an opioid antagonist. This means it reverses the effects of the opioid on the body. It is a temporary solution to give medical professionals time to assess the patient and provide proper medical attention. Narcan is now available to the public through community training initiatives and free educational courses.

9.          What should I do if I’m addicted to opioid drugs?

If you feel you have an issue with opioid abuse, you can contact the free and confidential Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline. Help is available 24/7, 365 days a year for treatment referral and information service for individuals or family members facing mental health or substance abuse challenges. If you need help, call the hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

10.    How can I help others who have fallen victim to the opioid epidemic?

There are several training opportunities available to the public if you wish to help combat the impact of the opioid epidemic. You can learn the facts, risks, and warning signs of addiction concerns. You can also participate in training on how to help someone in crisis and non-crisis situations.You can undergo community training on how to administer Naloxone. Most Narcan training courses provide community residents who have undergone training a free dose of Narcan. You can protect the ones you love by having an open conversation about the dangers of the opioid epidemic. There are also many community initiatives, such as the Prescription Drug Take Back, that can help you prevent an opioid overdose in your family.

For more information on the opioid epidemic, find resources here or check with your local community medical response team for resources specific to your area.