Opioid Addiction by the Numbers
The numbers are staggering. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2017, more than 47,000 people died of an opioid overdose. That is more than double the numbers from just ten years before. All of those lives are gone, from a preventable and treatable disease. These deaths came about due to the use of prescription pain killers, heroin, and illegally manufactured fentanyl. The number of people who suffered from addiction to opioid pain killers in 2017 was 1.7 million. Additionally, 652,000 were addicted to heroin, and 252,000 people were addicted to both.
A staggering statistic from a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) 2013 study on nonmedical pain reliever usage and the initiation of heroin use showed that 80 percent of people who used heroin had previously misused prescription opioids. There is a direct correlation between the two types of drugs, and unfortunately, more and more people are dying as a result of their use and abuse.
Opioid Addiction in Infants
In addition to the startling consequences of opioid use on adults and adolescents, the number of infants impacted by opioid use from their mothers is also growing. According to a report presented to the American Medical Association earlier this year, in 2016, the number of infants born to a mother who was using opioids was nearly 25,000 in the United States. In the fetal state, opioid use causes restricted growth, prematurity, and death. As newborns, they suffer from a small head circumference, low birth weight, and neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS.) That means they are born with opioid addiction and suffer from withdrawals at birth. Children who are born to women addicted to opioids suffer lifetime developmental disorders.
A Growing Problem
Opioid use is a problem for all of us. It is impacting adults, adolescents, children, and infants. And it is growing all the time. According to a study done by the CDC that was published last year, opioid overdoses in large cities increased by 54 percent in 16 different states in 2017. In the Midwest, overdoses increased by 70 percent. These are not homeless people or distraught teenagers who living on the streets. These are our neighbors, their children, and their infants. These people are us. They are all of us.
This is a public health crisis. It is a war being fought simultaneously with multiple agencies throughout the United States. There are plans in place and people are working together to save lives and to decrease the number of people who become dependent on opioids in the first place. But in order for them to succeed, we all need to look at what we can do.
Our Own Backyard
Many of the people who could become addicted to opioids can be seen from our own back yards. There is the neighbor with the back injury who has been taking hydrocodone to be able to go back to work. Or the friend who just had minor surgery and was given codeine for the pain afterward. The kid across the street who found his parents’ oxycodone and started taking it to numb their emotional pain. Once addicted, they find heroin and or other drugs. The addiction takes away their control, and soon they become prime candidates for an overdose.
When we associate addiction with only certain types of people, we limit the number of lives we can save. When it comes to opioids, they are in everyone’s medicine cabinet, meaning that any of us can become addicted. We are all at risk.
Responding to the Crisis
There are many things being put in place to help. For example, doctors are more limited on the number of opioids they prescribe and are starting to co-prescribe medications like Narcan to people at high risk for overdose, like those on higher doses. First responders also carry Narcan to assist in emergency situations to prevent death.
Those are just a few of the specific things being done to reduce opioid addiction. However, one of the most significant things we can do as individuals and communities is to reduce the stigma around addiction. When we open our eyes and look around us, we can reach out to those around us who are suffering silently and let them know they are not alone. By changing our perception of addicts, we can empower those around us to feel they are worthy of recovery.
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