The popular and respected health website has named the epidemic of opioid abuse as its top health news story of 2017.

The publication is not alone. Healthline and Consumer Reports have also devoted considerable attention to the crisis of opioid addiction in America, and Forbes included it in its top three healthcare stories of the year.

There is no mystery why so many news sources are devoting so much attention to opioid misuse. The latest figures show that in 2016, there were more than 64,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States, and most of them were caused by opioids. What is more, opioids were also a factor in many non-opioid overdoses that year.

Why Is It Considered a National Crisis?

You have seen the numbers rise year over year for a long time now. So why is so much attention being directed at opioid misuse as 2018 begins? Perhaps the main reason is that the crisis is behind the decline in overall life expectancy in the US. Two years of declining life expectancy in a row, which is what Americans are on track for right now, are almost unheard of in the US. The last time such a phenomenon occurred was after the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. Even at the peak of the HIV crisis of the 1990s, AIDS “only” caused 40,000 deaths annually.

Drugs Involved in Overdose Deaths in 2016

The drugs involved in overdose deaths in 2016, according to data compiled by the National Institute on Drug Abuse were, from most to least prevalent:

  • Synthetic opioids except for methadone
  • Heroin
  • Natural and semi-synthetic opioids
  • Cocaine
  • Methamphetamine
  • Methadone

The greatest increase in overdose deaths in 2016 was the result of fentanyl and fentanyl analogs, which were responsible for over 20,000 deaths. The year from 2015 to 2016 represented an exceptionally sharp increase in drug overdose deaths. What is more, opioid involvement in overdoses of cocaine and benzodiazepines has increased sharply between the years 2012 through 2015.

One of the Biggest Health Crises in a Century

Addiction treatment

The last major narcotic epidemic traced its origins to the treatment of wounded Civil War soldiers.

Though the current level of opioid misuse is unprecedented, the US has dealt with a major opioid crisis before. Approximately a century ago, Congress passed the Harrison Narcotics Act in an attempt to criminalize abuse of painkillers. That opioid epidemic originated during the Civil War, when morphine was used to ease the pain of injured soldiers.

During that time smoking opium was also fairly common, as was the use of laudanum for problems like ordinary menstrual cramps. All of it was perfectly legal in an era of patent medicines, but the solutions of 100 years ago (simply criminalizing use) will not be enough to address today’s opioid crisis. Today’s opioid epidemic has multiple, often tangled roots, and law enforcement and court systems know from experience that arresting people does not “cure” addiction.

What Must Happen to Turn the Tide?

Addiction treatment is the key to slowing the momentum of the opioid scourge, and ultimately turning it around. Though most people recognize opioid abuse disorder as a disease, there is still a lingering sense that moral culpability is somehow involved, and that often prevents people from seeking help. Furthermore, it may prevent law enforcement and court systems from reaching out to addiction treatment services regularly. Court systems that do offer diversion into opioid addiction treatment tend not to direct addicts to medication-assisted treatment, which is considered the gold standard for treatment of opioid misuse.

The year is new, and there is hope that by the end of 2018, there may be light at the end of the opioid abuse tunnel. This can only happen if addiction treatment becomes as important as restricting opioid prescriptions. When people who are addicted to prescribed painkillers no longer have access to them, they often acquire the drugs illegally, or transition to using heroin, where purity has no guarantees, and dangerous additives like fentanyl and carfentanil have been found.

Addiction treatment programs are available for people who are caught in the seemingly impossible trap of opioid misuse. Holistic approaches to addiction treatment, along with the use of medication-assisted treatment with methadone or buprenorphine helps people break the chains of addiction and live productive, happy lives. If you are dealing with opioid addiction or want to know more about addiction treatment, we encourage you to contact us at any time. We are ready to listen and offer help today!

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