Every year, thousands of people become addicted to opioids. Many of them eventually overdose because of their addiction to the drug. And many turn to alternative illicit street drugs, including heroin, once they are no longer able to get the prescription drugs needed to feed their addiction.
What are Opioids?
Opioids are prescription medications used to block or reduce pain. They are often recommended to patients who have recently undergone surgery or who suffered a moderate to severe injury. Some of the most commonly prescribed opioids include hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone, morphine, and fentanyl.
Though these medications might be effective when used properly, they are extremely addictive. Just a few doses can leave a person craving the drug and needing a higher dose to achieve the same pain-relieving effect they initially experienced.
Adding to the problem with opioid drugs is the overuse of them. Opioid prescriptions have almost quadrupled since the turn of the century and many believe that doctors are unnecessarily prescribing these drugs.
Patients who could just as easily tolerate mild pain with an over-the-counter pain relief remedy or even a natural pain relief solution are being prescribed potent medications.
The opioid addiction has become such a problem that addicts and the families of those addicted want to hold drug manufacturers accountable. They believe Big Pharma is pushing pills to doctors to increase sales.
Other people in the medical community being held responsible for the opioid epidemic include doctors, pharmacists, and drug wholesalers.
Do Opioids Really Work?
Despite the numerous prescriptions written for opioids every day, some are skeptical the drugs even achieve their intended purposes.
One 2016 University of Colorado study found that some opioids actually increase pain. Others believe that even if opioids are effective, they are far too addictive to risk using. These drugs have been called as addictive as heroin and most agree there are few if any, positive benefit of using opioids long-term to ease the pain.
Originally, these drugs were only prescribed for short-term pain relief. There were some instances of using opioids for chronic pain, but these were in cases of terminally ill patients.
It wasn’t until the 1980s that the medical community changed its approach to pain relief. Drug manufacturers took advantage of this decreased tolerance toward pain and began developing new drugs. They also utilized aggressive marketing techniques that in some cases were direct to consumer.
This new approach worked – for the drug companies.
Between 1996 and 2002, OxyContin sales rose from 300,000 to 7.2 million. OxyContin’s manufacturer, Purdue, spent $200 million to market the drug in 2001 and handed out six-figure bonuses to successful sales reps. Doctors were encouraged to prescribe the drug and given toys, coupons for free prescriptions, and other promotional merchandise. Additionally, they were invited to speak at all-expenses-paid events called “pain conferences.”
All the while, Purdue was telling doctors and patients that its drug was barely addictive – an outright lie that has turned the lives of millions of Oxy users upside down. The company eventually pleaded guilty to misleading doctors and patients about the addictive potential of OxyContin and misbranding the drug as “abuse-resistant.”
Opioid Addiction a Regional and Nationwide Problem
People across the country are addicted to opioids, but some regions seem to have been hit harder than others. The Midwest and parts of the Appalachian region have the highest rates of addiction and overdose.
Some speculate this is because people in these areas tend to experience more work-related injuries and therefore tend to receive prescriptions for pain medication more frequently. There is also a lack of treatment programs in many areas of the country with the highest opioid addiction rates.
Many believe the country has reached a tipping point concerning opioid addiction and hope that action will finally be taken to hold those responsible accountable.