The number of Americans using opioid drugs for nonmedical reasons has been steadily rising over the past few decades. In the nine-year period between 1999 and 2008, instances of fatal opioid overdose have increased by over four hundred percent. In roughly the same period of time, the number of prescription opioid drug sales also increased by four hundred percent. This is the American epidemic of opioids.
While this shocking trend is quickly becoming a major public health concern, up until recently, the extent of the crisis was very often overlooked, downplayed, or completely disregarded. Recent findings, however, are beginning to shed light on just how serious the American opioid addiction epidemic has become.
In the nine-year period between 1999 and 2008, instances of fatal opioid overdose have increased by over 400%.
American Epidemic of Opioid Abuse Among Youth
In a recent study published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, a team of researchers headed by Dr. Joseph J. Palamar, Ph.D, MPH, set out to uncover the differences in the rate of self-reported nonmedical opioid abuse among American high school seniors. The data for this study was collected from the annual Monitoring The Future (MTF) survey. This survey is administered at over 130 different high schools across the country, with more than 15,000 individual high school seniors supplying data each year.
The results of this year’s survey have been alarming to say the least. The team of researchers happened upon a discrepancy in the answers students provided regarding their past and present nonmedical use of opioid drugs. While many students answered “no” to the question of whether they had ever used opioid drugs for nonmedical reasons, they later in the survey answered “yes” when asked if they had ever used the prescription medications Vicodin and OxyContin for nonmedical reasons. The implication of this finding is that many young people fail to realize that the medications Vicodin and OxyContin are, in fact, opioid drugs. This should come as no surprise when we take into account the widespread misconception that illegal opioid drugs such as heroin are dangerous and addictive, while their pharmaceutical counterparts are completely safe to use.
To uncover the true rate of nonmedical opioid use among American high school seniors, the researchers compiled the results of the three relevant survey questions. The team of scientists found that of the 31,149 high school seniors who completed the MTF survey between the years 2009 and 2013, 8.3 percent reported engaging in nonmedical opioid use, 7.6 percent reported engaging in nonmedical Vicodin use, and a further 4.4 percent admitted to the nonmedical use of Oxycontin. As we mentioned earlier, however, these results don’t tell the whole story.
37.1 percent of students who reported past nonmedical Vicodin use, and 28.2 percent of those who admitted to nonmedical OxyContin use answered “no” to the question of whether they had ever used opioid drugs for nonmedical reasons. When we take this finding into account, the total number of high school seniors who engaged in the non-medical use of opioids increases from 8.3 percent to 11.1 percent.
It is now safe to assume that both the law enforcement and medical communities have been underestimating the true extent of the present American opioid abuse epidemic.
This American epidemic of opioid use is hiding in plain sight. The importance of accurate opioid use statistics cannot be overstated. By failing to appreciate the true size and nature of the problem, efforts to stem the tide of opioid abuse will remain ineffective.
A Crisis In Rural America
One potential explanation for why America’s opioid addiction epidemic has not garnered a great deal of media attention is the rural nature of the problem. Studies have shown that those living in rural communities are more likely to become addicted to opiates compared to their city-dwelling counterparts, and those living in small cities are more likely to become addicted than people living in larger cities. The United States Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, is hoping to draw attention to this regional problem by calling upon the Obama administration to increase funding for anti-drug programs in rural communities.
Spreading Awareness Of The Dangers Of Opioid Abuse
While most Americans are aware of the danger posed by heroin abuse and addiction, many fail to recognize that prescription opioid drugs can be equally harmful when used recreationally. This American epidemic started with the prevalence of prescription drugs.
The abuse of prescription opioids can lead to a number of adverse health effects, including:
- Irregular heart rates and cardiac arrhythmia.
- Sleep disorders like insomnia and sleep apnea.
- Impaired digestion and constipation.
- Dangerously low respiration rate and hypoxia (insufficient oxygen reaching bodily tissues).
- Mood imbalances such as major depression and dysthymia.
- Chronic immune system suppression, resulting in frequent bouts of illness.
- Opioid endocrinopathy, a condition that often leads to low libido, infertility, loss of muscle tissue, and osteoporosis.
- Overdose induced coma and fatal cardiac arrest.
The nonmedical use of prescription pain medications can also lead to heroin abuse and addiction. Studies have revealed that those who abuse prescription opioids are up to 19 times more likely than non-abusers to try heroin, and approximately 85 percent of heroin users were first introduced to opioids through prescription pain medications like Vicodin and Oxycontin. The switch from prescription opioid drugs to heroin is in part due to the fact that heroin is much less expensive, and is often much easier to obtain in certain parts of the country. Until we begin better educating Americans about the dangers of opioid drug abuse, solving the current American epidemic of opioids will remain an uphill battle.
Treating Opioid Addiction
Overcoming an opiate addiction is notoriously difficult, and very often requires the professional guidance of a certified addiction treatment specialist. An intensive inpatient rehabilitation program is highly beneficial for those who have struggled to achieve recovery, and while it is possible to beat opioid addiction on one’s own, failing to address the underlying issues that led to addiction in the first place increases the risk of an eventual relapse.
If you or someone you love is in need of prescription drug addiction treatment in New York or surrounding, know that there are people out there who understand just how difficult the recovery process can be, and are there to help. Our professional addiction treatment specialists will work with you or your loved one to successfully overcome addiction, one step at a time. Call us now.