Opioid epidemic in America

KATE WESTPHAL
STAFF WRITER

Ever since the late 1990s, the United States has been dealing with an opioid crisis, causing an increase in opioid overdoses and deaths. Due to the rapid increase in the usage of prescription drugs – mostly painkillers –the opioid crisis has proved to be a constant thorn in the side of healthcare systems and government treatment programs.

Studies focused on opioid use and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse have shown that approximately 6% of those who are prescribed opioids for trauma or surgery continue to use them past their doctor’s prescription. Prescribed opioids include codeine, fentanyl, hydrocodone, and methadone.

Opioids are a class of medications primarily prescribed for post-surgery or pain management use, which is how most opioid users had their first interaction with the drugs. Opioid drugs bind to opioid receptors located in the brain and spinal cord and block pain signals coming from those receptors. In this way, they tell the body it is not experiencing pain.

As they block pain, opioids are a highly abused drug whose use can quickly become addictive, causing the need for treatment programs for opioid addiction to be established.

The opioid epidemic has been described as a uniquely American problem. Due to the structure of the healthcare system in the United States, it favors prescribing drugs over expensive therapies that many people can only use due to their private insurance.

When compared to other countries such as Canada or Germany, prescription rates for opioids are 40 percent higher in the United States. While the prescription rate for opioids are falling due to the high risk of abuse, there were still around 58 opioid prescriptions per every 100 Americans in 2017.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 130 people die from opioid overdoses in the United States every day. This epidemic has caused the need for treatment programs to be established, particularly in communities where opioids are heavily prevalent.

Michigan is included, as it has the 11th highest number of opioid-related deaths in the United States. Michigan had 1,762 opioid related deaths in 2016 – a rate of 18.5 opioid-related deaths to 100,000 people. Compared to the national average for opioid-related deaths, 13.3 deaths per 100,00 people, Michigan has a clear need for opioid awareness and treatment programs.

Opioid treatment programs, referred to as OTPs, are defined as a program engaged in opioid treatment of individuals with an opioid agonist medication. Effective treatment options given to those engaging in OTPs include medications such as methadone and buprenorphine and behavioral counseling.

Studies undertaken by the National Institute on Drug Abuse show that Medication Assisted Treatment, referred to as MAP, decreases opioid use, and it increases social functioning and retention while in treatment.

Naloxone, also known as Narcan, is a frequently used medication in opioid treatment programs. It is designed to rapidly reverse an opioid overdose by countering its effects. Narcan is also an opioid agonist, meaning that it binds to opioid receptors located in the body’s brain and spinal cord and can reverse the effects of other opioids.

By binding to those opioid receptors, Narcan prevents opioids from binding and thus stops their effects on the body. While it is not meant to fully treat an opioid addiction, Narcan can help individuals recover from an overdose and begin the first steps into an opioid treatment program.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an opioid addiction, call the American Addiction Center at 1-866-703-4247 to receive help and information about treatment options and current programs.

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