In the United States, no less an authority than the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) calls the rate of drug overdose deaths today an epidemic. Over just five years, from 2010 through 2015, the rate of drug overdose deaths increased in 30 states and the District of Columbia. In 19 states, the overdose rate remained stable, and in only two states did the overdose rate drop.

What is more, from 2014 to 2015, drug overdose deaths increased by 11.4 percent, according to the CDC. More specifically, opioid overdose death rates went up by 15.6 percent from 2014 to 2015. Synthetic opioids apart from methadone accounted for the most significant increase in death rates. Illicitly-made fentanyl and heroin are believed to be behind most of these deaths.

In recent years, misuse of prescription opioids has become entangled with heroin addiction, with misuse of prescription painkillers becoming a significant risk factor for heroin use. As a result, most people’s stereotypical image of the opioid addict is mistaken. It is important to realize who today’s opioid addicts are.

The Old Stereotype of the Heroin User

The heroin addict, or “junkie” stereotype still exists, but many of today’s opioid addicts appear to have little in common with this cliched character. Envisioning a dirty, homeless person who lives on the street and engages in all manner of humiliating behavior to support a drug habit, people generally feel little aside from pity or contempt for the heroin addict who looks to be straight from central casting. Most people also think of someone with obvious physical and mental health problems when they think of the typical heroin addict. Today, however, even people who are addicted to heroin rather than other opioids may appear completely different than what you are imagining or seeing in movies.

How Today’s Opioid Addict Is Different

Today’s opioid addict may look like your best friend, your neighbor, or even your aging parent. A recent survey of long-term opioid use conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Washington Post found that 60 percent of long-term users were between the ages of 40 and 64. Approximately one-third were on disability, and one in five were retired.

The opioid addict of today is more likely to be found in a rural area than an urban one, and the problem is particularly acute there, because treatment options in rural areas are few and far between. Moreover, jails in remote counties and emergency departments at rural hospitals do not always have the resources they need for dealing with crimes committed by addicts or with opioid overdoses.

opioid addict in jail

The Insidiousness of Slipping into Addiction

One astounding statistic from the survey was that the overwhelming majority (97 percent) of long-term opioid users initially received their drugs from physicians. An even higher percentage (98 percent) said they started taking the drugs for pain relief. Half were prescribed painkillers after surgery, an accident, or injury.

Though law enforcement and other officials are trying to curb over-prescribing, it still happens; unfortunately, the prescription that is given after a routine medical or dental procedure is capable of leading someone into the dark hole of addiction. What starts as medical pain management is capable of making people feel exceptionally good at first, and that may be enough to lead them to obtain opioids illegally once legal options run out. Slipping into addiction can happen to anyone.

Making the Right Addiction Treatment Choice

An effective solution to the opioid epidemic must deal both with suppliers and with users, and must also provide the pain relief that people legitimately need due to their illness, injury, or medical procedures. The problem is complex and may become worse before it gets better. Fortunately, addiction treatment options exist that help opioid addicts detox from the drugs and then begin the journey to recovery.

Some addiction treatment programs for opioid abuse include medical management with drugs like methadone or buprenorphine. The type of addiction treatment must be customized to the individual. While addiction is a disease that has many commonalities among people with it, there is no “one size fits all” addiction treatment, particularly with complex addictions like those that include both prescription painkillers and street drugs. If you or your loved one are struggling against the disease of addiction, we encourage you to reach out and learn about our admissions at any time.

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