U.S. Opioid Epidemic is of Our Own Making

The opioid epidemic had to start somewhere and unlike the crack epidemic in years past, we cannot so easily criminalize the victims of this unfortunate situation. The current focus is on help and that these people are sick, so we must look into who put those opioids in their hands in the first place--drug companies.

The current opioid epidemic is a result of how drug companies have exerted their influence on the medical field. Opioids have been widely used for over a hundred years—morphine having been isolated in the early 1800s—which means that this classification of drug is not new to anyone, but only now have we encountered such widespread dependence. This is because of how the synthetic opioids that we are familiar with today were pushed onto our society.

The primary responsibility can be laid at the feet of Purdue Pharma through how the company advocated and pushed for the pervasive use of OxyContin. Then, when that increase in OxyContin prescriptions became problematic in the number of people that were becoming addicted to it, those prescriptions were reduced and regulations pushed forward. That might appear as the safest course of action, but in doing so without any sort of transitional plan prepared it only served to turn patients to acquiring OxyContin through illegal means, which in turn increased the likelihood of overdose or other complications associated with their drug use.

Compared to other drug epidemics throughout the years, this one is of our own doing. In 2014, The United States consumed nearly 70% of the world’s supply of opioids, yet chronic pain levels continue to increase. That is no longer just something that can be traced back to Purdue Pharma, but a systemic problem that is in dire need of a diagnosis.

In the past, ER departments have had a lot of pressure put on them to pay close attention to a patient’s pain levels, leading to an increase in opioid prescriptions. There is a strong desire in this country for people to have something to treat their pain, a pill that will make things better. Many have found this in their opioid prescriptions. This is not restricted to physical pain either, but also mental and emotional pain. Our current opioid situation has impacted certain pockets much harder than others; the people who are the victims of this sort of opioid usage are a much different population compared to previous and other ongoing drug epidemics. In this opioid epidemic, we’ve seen a very different approach. The focus has been on help and that these people are sick, as compared to blaming the victim and jailing them. However, income inequality, unemployment, and struggling to make ends meet continue to be very real concerns that can contribute to depression, anxiety, and can lead into different manifestations of pain.

If you introduce an opioid to an individual or population that is already struggling, then it should not be surprising that they become dependent on it. They are being comforted and if you take away that comfort without doing anything to improve the individual’s social situation, then that set of circumstances are only made worse. However, for as dire as this opioid epidemic has been, we have observed a marked improvement in the last two years and with this increased awareness, the pendulum looks to be swinging in the opposite direction now.

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