The Opioid Epidemic and Pain Medication Addiction: An Origin Story

As another year progresses, the opioid epidemic in the US wages on, claiming on average 120 lives per day. Opioids have overtaken gun violence and car crashes as a leading cause of death. As addicts and non-addicts alike stand in awe of the power these drugs possess, we are left to wonder: How did this happen? Very simply, the answer to that question is pain medication addiction.

Big Pharma and the Catalyst for Crisis

To elaborate further on the opioid epidemic, understanding its origin is crucial. For the past twenty years, with an extreme spike in the last five, the opioid epidemic has been affecting the country. Thanks to big pharma and their subsequent immoral marketing, pain medication addiction has flourished and acted as Pandora’s Box for opiate addiction in general.

Would you believe me if I told you that there was once a time that Oxycodone was marketed as a “non-addictive prescription pain medication”—the first of its kind? Well, in the late 90s, that’s exactly what happened. One of the major players in the big pharma industry known as Purdue Pharma, marketed the drug with the intention of using misleading information to flood the market with their product. And we fell for it. Doctors began prescribing the medication in droves to patients for any type of ache or pain.

This lie generated billions of dollars in sales for the company. It also gave birth to the opioid epidemic that still plagues us today. People unknowingly were developing prescription pain medication addiction that would eventually give way to the heroin explosion as a cheaper, more potent option.

Purdue Pharma did ultimately face the consequences of their actions: they were fined $635 million, a small price to pay when you consider the number of deaths correlated to the opioid epidemic in 2016 alone outnumber the total number of American deaths for the entire Vietnam War.

Pain Medication Prescriptions for Everyone!

What is perhaps even more alarming than the death statistics correlated to the opioid epidemic is the number of pain medication prescriptions still being written on a daily basis. With a lack of political action to enact a policy to help combat the epidemic, much focus has been dedicated to the reduction of the number of prescriptions being written.

However, the number of prescriptions in circulation are still over 3 times the amount that were in the late 90s. Essentially, in 2010, there were approximately 254 million opioid prescriptions filled, which provided enough opioids to keep every single adult in the US medicated for an entire month, 24/7.

Despite the current trend in deaths by overdose and pain medication addiction, the number of people still accessing these dangerous substances is alarming. The state of Florida remains one of the hardest hit by the opioid epidemic. In Florida alone, 1.27 million people receive prescriptions for painkillers.

Florida is also the center of the pill mill crisis that took place just a few years ago. There was a time when you could go into a clinic, see a “clinician,” and walk out with a prescription for opioids after paying a fee. Although the government did eventually step in and essentially shut down the industry, the damage was done. Florida is also now the addiction treatment and recovery capital of the country.  

From Pills to Heroin: The Birth of An Epidemic

In lieu of the government taking action in shutting down these pill mills, the opioid epidemic continues to flourish. That is mainly because of the unfortunate trend when it comes to pain medication addiction. As one study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse revealed, people who abuse OxyContin are 19 times more likely to start using heroin. It also discovered that 8 out of 10 heroin users started with OxyContin.

As a result of the stricter laws in place pertaining to prescription pain medications, millions have been left destitute in their prescription pain medication addiction. Unable to receive their medications, yet still hopelessly dependent on them, most will turn to the cheaper, more readily available option: heroin an illicit drug that belongs to the opioid class. In an effort to avoid the harsh withdrawals associated with opioid addiction, addicts reach for heroin as a substitute.

Fentanyl and Heroin: A Deadly Combination

The main challenge now being presented in the opioid epidemic is that heroin is more potent than ever before. Previously, addicts were able to do larger quantities of the drug without succumbing to overdose. However, the number of overdose deaths has skyrocketed, primarily because fentanyl is now being found in heroin.

Fentanyl is an extremely potent opioid pain medication with a rapid onset. Originally meant to be used as a transdermal patch, for slow, extended release, it is being implemented within batches heroin, presumably to make the product “stronger and better”. But because the individual using the drug is not aware that fentanyl is present in the heroin, or how much, many addicts are overdosing accidentally.

Last year in New Hampshire, there were 351 reported opioid overdose deaths. Out of those, Fentanyl was attributed as the cause in 253 deaths. Considering that Fentanyl is over 50 times stronger than heroin, this comes as no surprise.

The War for Middle America: Give Us Narcan or Give Us Death!

Perhaps another one of the most ravaged areas of the country is Middle America, namely Ohio. The opioid epidemic has left communities in social and economic crisis. With more financial resources than ever being exhausted to keep up with the stark increase in overdose rates, a 775% percent jump (no that’s not a typo), a line is being drawn in the sand by public officials. This has caused much civil unrest in these communities, creating an “us against them mentality”. Although the stigma of addiction has always been prevalent, the opioid epidemic is merely fostering it, incubating it.

Many public officials are claiming “compassion fatigue” or lack of empathy for addicts due to how widespread the problem has become. Ohio Sheriff Richard K Jones, of Butler County, has even proposed a cessation of emergency responders distributing the drug Narcan to overdose victims. Narcan, or Naloxone, is an effective antidote to opioid overdose. It can be the difference between life and death for an addict. A “3-strike” rule has also been suggested, under which any addict who has received a dose of Narcan three times prior will be refused a fourth dose on the next emergency response call.

The financial implications of the opioid epidemic are taking its toll on communities around the nation and causing this upheaval. In Middletown, OH, the city is on track to spend over $100,000 alone on Narcan supplies this year. This figure represents more than 10 times to original projected budget, and these numbers keep climbing. In Middletown alone, it is projected that combined, over $1.5 million will be spent responding to and reacting to opioid addiction problems. This is commonplace. Opioid addiction costs the United States, on average, over $78.5 billion dollars a year.

Addiction Treatment: The Recovery Business Saves the Day?

As previously stated, Florida is the number one place in the country currently for addiction treatment. That being said, addicts are making the pilgrimage from all corners of the country in droves in search of recovery. Every day, thousands of addicts are arriving to Florida to undertake the harsh journey from addiction to recovery.

But, unfortunately, there are those out there using the opioid epidemic as a means of extorting desperate addicts and families. In the wake of the crisis in Palm Beach County, FL in the past decade, there has been an explosion in the number of addiction treatment facilities. While there are some that are doing great, moral work, helping one addict at a time, there are those whose priorities linger on the financial aspect.

As a result of the opioid epidemic, the health care system has been put under financial strain as well. Numerous treatment facilities have discovered a way to manipulate the system and bill private insurance companies for thousands of dollars per client for bogus charges. Insurance companies are shelling out millions every year, and these clients are receiving sub-par, if any, treatment at all.

Until the last year, these facilities were getting away with these immoral practices. Overdose rates went up, as clients were merely cycled through treatment as opposed to actually receiving the help they needed. Now, the federal government is once again cracking down in Florida, with more people being arrested and charged with fraud than ever.

One more notable case of Kenny Chatman, treatment center and halfway house mogul, who was sentenced to 27 years in federal prison. He was convicted of a slew of charges including fraud. He was also implicated in the overdose deaths of multiple addicts under his “care”.

Due to these immoral facilities, many private health care providers have made it far more difficult to receive addiction treatment by refusing to approve clients for treatment. Millions of addicts are being left stranded, lost in prescription pain medication addiction, unable to receive the treatment they need and deserve from the legitimate facilities.

The Opioid Epidemic: The Perfect Storm

With a power struggle taking place in the country, what we need to do is look at a multi-faceted solution. By coming together as a community, and attacking the crisis from all angles as opposed to fighting against one another, we can begin working towards a solution. The truth is, the solution lies in every single problem plaguing the epidemic. By counteracting all the issues that inherently are attributed to causing the crisis, we can chip away at it, piece by piece:

  • Further addiction education material must be made available to the masses to finally put the stigma of addiction to rest. Prevention is key when it comes to addiction and recovery.
  • There must be recognition of the fact that addiction is a disease, not just treat it as personal choice.
  • We must make addiction treatment more readily available at legitimate facilities.
  • Pain medication addiction can be prevented by fewer prescriptions being written and holistic treatments being utilized first.
  • Lastly, we need to address the numerous social problems existing in the country that facilitate drug addiction in the first place. By taking care of our communities and the various social issues that exist within them, we can attack the epidemic on an individual basis.

If we delegate our various resources to taking care of these problems, we can find the solution to the worst drug epidemic of human history. Rather than looking at the problems, let’s look at the solution.

How Can DTCF Help You?

If you or someone you know is currently struggling with addiction and are seeking recovery, let Drug Treatment Center Finder help you. We can help you locate a legitimate, effective facility that’s right for you! Our team is dedicated to providing only the best resources available in addiction treatment. Our commitment to excellence can help you or your loved one find the relief from addiction you deserve. Contact us today at 855-619-8070 and let us help you take the first step towards healing.

Alyssa Harbina :