The United States has had a major problem with opiates for a very long time. However, the story of opiate addiction becoming an epidemic starts off with the best intentions. Unfortunately, those intentions, however noble at first, were quickly corrupted to feed corporate greed, all without regard for the people who were suffering from opiate addiction. Surprisingly, very few people in the U.S. know the whole story of the opiate epidemic in the United States, meaning that there is very little understanding of this epidemic in society overall. To help stave off this ignorance, here is the story of how opiate addiction became an epidemic. This article will cover:
Before we explore how opiate addiction became an epidemic, we need to learn what exactly opiates are. Opioids are a classification of drugs that are either derived from or chemically mimics opium. For years, morphine (one of the most common opiates) was the only opioid used to treat pain due to it being easily derived from opium.
As medicine advanced, scientists found ways to replicate the effects of morphine to have stronger or weaker effects depending on the situation. In some cases, opioids like methadone were developed due to the scarcity of morphine, while others like heroin were made in an attempt to synthesize a less addictive compound. As of this point, opioids are synonymous with pain relief and addiction.
Some of the most common opiates include:
Opiates are primarily used for their pain-relieving effects. However, opiates have a lot of other effects that many are unaware of. Some of the most common effects one can expect to have on their body while taking opiates can include:
One of the most harmful effects of opiates is slowed breathing, which can result in not enough oxygen reaching the brain (known as hypoxia). Hypoxia can have short and long-term neurological effects, the worst of which can result in brain damage, coma, or death. Therefore, it is important to educate those around you about the dangers of fentanyl, heroin, and other opiates.
Now that we have discussed the various effects that opiates have on the body, it’s time to answer the question of how the opioid epidemic started in the first place. Many will trace the roots of the epidemic to the late 1990s. During this time, pharmaceutical companies were looking for a relatively cheap and powerful painkiller. After much research, these companies invented and subsequently pushed these synthetic and semi-synthetic opioids to doctors. These companies promised doctors that these medications were less addictive or altogether nonaddictive when compared to other painkillers such as morphine. Furthermore, many of these companies pushed the claim that these medications had absolutely no dangerous side effects when used in the proper way.
Due to these lies and marketing schemes, doctors began to increasingly push these drugs, as they had no reason to believe that these drugs were as harmful as they really were. Over time, these opioids became widely accepted as a viable way of treating pain. This growth in prescriptions directly pushed the distribution of such medications to the levels that we see today. Furthermore, many drug companies have made efforts to stop any research into alternative painkillers due to the extremely large profit margins they receive from these prescriptions.
Unfortunately, in most cases, those who become addicted to opioids do so after initial contact with the medication due to a prescription. The highly addictive properties of these medications make it very easy for any human to fall into an addictive pattern—something that is completely natural to the human body. Many prescription opioid users will only discover their dependency on the medication after the prescription ends. At this point, the now addict is forced to choose whether to get clean and endure the horrifying withdrawal symptoms or continue to seek out the drug in another form. At this point, most will make the transition from legal prescription use to illegal drug use.
Once someone gets addicted to non-prescription opioids, their life will often become a slippery slope. Not only are these types of drugs more potent, but they are often easier to locate and cheaper as well. Because of these factors, many once clean individuals will follow down the dark path of addiction, which most often ends in the addict dying from a drug overdose or getting arrested on drug charges.
One of the biggest factors that make the opiate crisis so hard to deal with is the fact that the situations that lead to this kind of addiction are so different from other addictions. In most circumstances, the initial contact with opiates comes because of a prescription. One of the most astounding facts about the opioid crisis is how many overdoses are due to prescribed medications. These are not people using street drugs like heroin and fentanyl; they are overdosing on legally prescribed medications by a doctor.
We hope that this article has helped you understand how opiate addiction became an epidemic. While many may think that the opioid epidemic is a result of a personal choice taken by someone else, it really isn’t in the big picture. In reality, beating the opioid epidemic will take the efforts of every person to spread awareness of the overprescribing of these medications. Make sure you talk to those around you to remove the stigma of addiction and drug use. Remind them that addiction is not just for the weak and that it is simply a result of biology. Simply put, the more those around you know about addiction and opioids, the more likely they are to stay away from these harmful substances.
Chapman House is a California licensed residential substance abuse treatment facility licensed by the State Department of Health Care Services.