Pain Killers and the Opioid Crisis (cont.)

The American Society of Addiction Medicine stated that the drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S. In 2015, there were 52,404 lethal drug overdoses. Opioid addiction is driving the epidemic with 20,101 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers and 12,990 linked to heroin in 2015. Of the 20.5 million Americans ages 12 and up who had a substance use disorder in 2015, 2 million involved heroin.

The rampant use of opioids has many wondering what fed this epidemic. cited that in the late 1990s, in an attempt to treat patients’ pain conditions, medical providers began aggressively prescribing drugs that contained opiates. Many doctors were uncomfortable prescribing these.

Some experts believe that the medical community and drug industries unknowingly unleashed the opioid abuse epidemic. The CDC cited that sales of prescription opioids in the U.S. nearly quadrupled from 1999 to 2014. In 2012, health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioid pain medication. That’s enough for every adult in the country to have a bottle of pills.

Some patients developed addictions after being prescribed opioids, but in many cases those without prescriptions could illegally obtain the drugs, which were left around people’s homes rather than being disposed of properly after use.

Due to government crackdowns, such as the “War on Drugs,” opioids eventually became increasingly more difficult to obtain. Some patients claimed that they were already addicted and, in desperation, began turning to less expensive, more accessible alternatives such as heroin, which could easily be sourced on the street. As a result, there was a significant spike in the number of people who were addicted and/or overdosing from heroin.