Whether you have heard about it through the news, social media, a show, movie, or documentary, the discussion about the opioid epidemic and drug overdoses seems unavoidable. Even with this crisis gaining so much awareness, we are still seeing record-breaking deaths from drug overdoses. According to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, within the span of a year beginning in April 2020 to April 2021, the United States experienced over 100,000 deaths related to drug overdoses, which was a whopping 28.5% increase from the year before. Drug overdoses are the leading cause of injury-related death for Americans with 75% of these deaths involving prescription or illicit opioids. Although these statistics are staggering, this dilemma is not irreparable. While it won’t be an easy fix, it’s important to understand that it takes an entire community to heal and prevent it from getting worse.
In order to successfully tackle this issue, we first have to comprehend how it got so bad. Back in the mid to late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies created stronger and more addictive prescription opioids that were misrepresented as being less addictive and as the best viable option for pain management. As a result, doctors across the country began to overprescribe these narcotics even as treatment for moderate pain. Over time, it became glaringly apparent that these claims were false as more people became addicted to these prescriptions and began dying from overdoses.
Many of those who became addicted to prescription opioids built up a tolerance and either needed higher doses or more potent drugs to get the same euphoric feeling. As getting these prescriptions through legal means became increasingly difficult, many turned to stronger, cheaper, and illicit alternatives such as counterfeit pills, heroin, and now fentanyl that is being sold on the street. By this point, many of us know that fentanyl is one of the strongest opioids known to mankind and we understand that it is lethal even in extremely small quantities. However, something the public needs to recognize is that fentanyl isn’t just being found laced in heroin. It is also commonly mixed with all kinds of other drugs that are purchased illegally such as meth, cocaine, MDMA and pretty much anything that can be made to look like an authentic prescription pill which is the reason why there are record-breaking numbers of overdoses. In fact, the DEA found that about 1 in 4 counterfeit pills contained a deadly amount of fentanyl.
So, what can we do moving forward? First, we must protect those most vulnerable: our youth. Because children, teens and even young adults don’t have fully developed brains, they are more likely to succumb to addiction, especially to more powerful drugs like opioids. Youth need to be educated on the dangers that come with drug experimentation. Furthermore, we need to focus on the underlying factors that increase drug use amongst all demographics. Anxiety, social isolation, financial troubles, and other stressors have been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic. These are some of the contributing reasons as to why we have seen a dramatic rise in drug overdoses and even suicides across the country. The solution is to collectively learn and teach healthy coping habits to withstand these societal pressures.
Visit our Opioid Epidemic page to learn more about this issue and what you can do to help.