ThedaCare Health Matters

We are truly facing an opioid crisis

The president along with the Centers for Disease Control have declared there is an opioid crisis in our country. A number of factors make this a crisis. The first is that there are more than 90 deaths from opioid overdoses in the United States daily. Also, millions of lives are adversely affected by opioid addiction. In addition, there is the financial impact, estimated at $78.5 billion a year, due to opioid use with loss of productivity, criminal justice involvement, healthcare costs and addiction treatment costs.  

Opioids (also referred to as narcotics) are a class of drugs that are highly addictive and intended primarily for pain relief. There are legal and illegal opioids including heroin, morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone and fentanyl to name a few. Opioids have been available for many years, but the crisis has developed primarily in the last 20 years. During this time, two major changes occurred. One was that providers were influenced to prescribe more opioids for non-cancer related pain. The number of opioid prescriptions quadrupled from 1999 to 2010. The second was the development and marketing of OxyContin (long-acting oxycodone), which was inaccurately promoted as a non-addicting opioid pain reliever. Millions of prescriptions were given and now there are millions addicted.

Now that the pendulum has swung back towards not prescribing legal opioid medications, addicts are turning to opioids they buy illegally off the street. These include heroin, prescription drugs and fentanyl – a highly potent synthetic opioid. 

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