Each mind-altering substance, whether alcohol, cocaine, LSD, or otherwise, offers users profound personal risk in a number of ways. Alcohol can be purchased legally, making it exceptionally easy for users to obtain legitimately; however, for drug users this risk begins when the user seeks his or her drug of choice, which often entails venturing into dangerous areas and associating with dangerous individuals. Upon imbibing the substance, the individual opens him or herself to a wide range of severe health risks as well as the risk of chemical dependency and addiction. What’s more, the disease of addiction very often leads individuals to destroy relationships with family, friends, and loved ones while lying, stealing, and committing crimes in order to sustain an alcohol or drug habit. This causes many addicts to become unrecognizable from who they were prior to the onset of chemical dependency.
Over the past decades, we’ve experienced more than our fair share of drug epidemics. From opium in the nineteenth century to the more recent and notorious cocaine epidemic of the 70s and 80s, it seems that there’s always that certain substance that tears through our communities like wildfire. Experts say that we’ve been in the midst of a major painkiller epidemic with users young and old falling under the thrall of prescription opioids.
An Epidemic Emerges
After much debate as to where the epidemic began, experts believe the birth of addicts’ infatuation with pain medication to have occurred in the late 90s. Though Vicodin and other opiates had been available for while, Oxycontin was the first major opioid painkiller to be widely prescribed worldwide that contained high doses of oxycodone—the active ingredient in the medication—and wasn’t diluted with acetaminophen. At first, Oxycontin was the answer to many prayers. It was incredibly effective for the treatment of moderate to severe pain, allowing individuals to take a single pill rather than high doses of multiple other drugs that contained a lot of acetaminophen and other additives. As such, Oxycontin was a favorite of many doctors or prescribed the medication for pain management.
Over time, those who were prescribed Oxycontin developed a high tolerance to opioid painkillers, requiring higher and higher doses of Oxycontin and other strong opioids that were hitting the market regularly. This led many individuals to seek prescriptions for opioid painkillers illegally by seeing several doctors in order to receive duplicate prescriptions, which is commonly called “doctor shopping” and would allow such individuals to increase their own dosage as they desired. Additionally, as individuals continued to need more and more of their prescribed painkillers to get the same effect, they also had to deal with the withdrawal symptoms that would occur if they tried to take less than the amount of opioid painkillers to which they’d become used to taking. The ease with which patients could make appointments with multiple doctors in order to receive duplicate prescriptions led to Oxycontin and other opioid medications being sold on the streets at higher rates than ever before. So not only were individuals able to obtain illegal prescriptions for oxycodone, but they could even supplement by buying Oxycontin, Vicodin, Percocet, Dilaudid, and other painkillers off the street.
The Painkiller Epidemic in the Northeast
Since opioid painkillers can be obtained legally via a prescription filled at any pharmacy, the abuse of painkillers has increased to astounding rates in less than two decades since the first Oxycontin prescriptions were written. To put it into perspective, consider these statistics: Although Americans comprise less than 5 percent of the world’s population, Americans consume more than 80 percent of the world’s supply of opioid painkillers. Almost one out of every ten Americans over the age of 12 has not only taken an opioid painkiller, but actually abused one, which is to say taking it for recreational or non-medical purposes.
What’s more, of the estimated 6 to 10 percent of the American population that’s estimated to be actively suffering from addiction to an opiate, in 75 percent of those cases the opiate in question was either hydrocodone or oxycodone. At the onset of the painkiller epidemic most users who became addicted to painkillers had been prescribed the medications to treat chronic pain; today, only about 50 percent of users start taking painkillers to control pain. And due to the high cost of painkillers, it’s common for painkiller addicts to be white, affluent, young, educated, and 54 percent of painkiller addicts are female.
In the past years, drug abuse trends throughout the United States have waxed and waned with some drugs being more commonly abused in certain regions than others. For a while it appeared that northeastern states such as Maine, New York, Maryland, and even DC had some of the highest rates of painkiller abuse in the country. In fact, statistics indicate that for every 100 individuals living in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Rhode Island, and Maine, there were between 82 and 95 opioid painkillers prescriptions; by comparison, the state of Hawaii—which is one of the handfuls of states with very low rates of opioid prescription—has only about 52 painkiller prescriptions written for every 100 people.
As a result of these high rates of painkiller abuse in the northeastern states and elsewhere in the United States, there have been many federal laws instituted in an attempt to curb the rates of addition. What’s more, pharmaceutical companies themselves have made efforts to make painkillers less addictive, or rather less abusable, by making many opioid painkillers tamper-proof, unable to be crushed for nasal insufflation or dissolved in water to be injected intravenously. In the relatively short time since these changes took effect, there has been a noticeable decrease in painkiller abuse nationwide. However, many of the individuals who were addicted to painkillers and finding themselves unable to procure their drugs of choice have switched to heroin, which is powerful narcotic opiate that many would argue to be even more powerful than painkillers. Consequently, nationwide—and even global—heroin addiction rates are soaring with there being more heroin addicts admitted to treatment facilities and more heroin overdose and death than ever before.
If you or someone you love suffer from addiction to opioid painkillers, heroin, or any other substance, regain control of your life by calling Drug Treatment Center Finder. Our knowledgeable specialists are trained to match addicts with the addiction treatment program that can best address their individual treatment needs. Don’t wait; contact us today.