If you’ve been paying much attention to the news recently, you’ll have heard the words “opioid crisis.” everyone’s paying attention to it- the media, activists, healthcare professionals, the government, President Trump himself. And that’s because the statistics are jarring. More than 90 Americans die as a result of overdosing on opioids. And don’t think that the crisis only affects addicts and their families. It has huge social and political implications and especially huge financial repercussions. It has been estimated that the opioid crisis has cost the country 78.5 billion dollars in terms of lost productivity, drug treatment, criminal justice and healthcare costs.
So what’s behind all this chaos? Millions of pills and pounds of powder. Opiates, or opioids, as they’re commonly referred to, don’t give the full picture to these drugs. All opioids are derived from opium poppy, but there are many different manifestations. At first, legal opiates took off due to loose regulations and opportunistic doctors. The country saw a spike in the popularity of drugs such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, vicodin, dilaudid, percocet and more during the early 2000’s when the prescription drug crisis was taking off. However, oxycodone and hydrocodone were the most popular forms, due to their potency. However, crackdowns on pain pill prescribing and the influx of foreign drugs led heroin and fentanyl to enter the market, and they are among the most popular drugs for abuse in the country now. However, pain pills are still being abused and ripping families apart due to their violently addictive nature. In 2015, there were 20,101 deaths due to prescription painkillers and 12,990 deaths due to heroin use. The numbers only continue to grow.
So what are the origins of these dangerous drugs? Well, opiates have actually been around forever. They were first used by Sumerians in the year 3400 B.C. They cultivated the opium poppy plant, which has the more scientific name of papaver somniferum. They referred to this plant as the “joy plant.” They cultivated it primarily to mitigate pain, but also to be able to sleep and for stomach/bowel relief. It was these uses that gave it its medical connotation and ever since, doctors have been extracting it and harnessing its medicinal properties. This is where the difference between opiates and opioids come in. Opiates are naturally derived from the poppy plant, whereas opioids are man-made, manipulated derivations. There is not much difference in these words, or the effectiveness of the types of drugs.
There is hype surrounding the opioid crisis now, but people have been addicted to opioids/opiates for years. As long as it’s been in existence, people have used it to get high, in medicinal and abusive manners. However, since the mass production of opioid pharmaceuticals, demand has been higher than ever, which is in layman’s terms, what has brought us to the opioid crisis of today.
So what is it about opiates that has had people chasing after them for thousands of years? Well, there are a lot of factors that makes opiates so addictive. When they are taken, they enter the brain through the user’s bloodstream. It is during this process that a rush of fake endorphins and dopamine (neurotransmitters that induce sensations of pleasure and contentment) enters the body. This results in the user feeling very euphoric and high- a high that could never be reached naturally. The level of dopamine and endorphins that your body gets used to as an opiate addict is egregiously higher than any kind of naturally occurring neurotransmitter experience. This leads the user to begin to be unable to create dopamine and endorphins themselves and creates a reliance upon the drug for those feelings. This is what is called a craving and is the base level and experience of addiction. Opiate abuse stems from repeated cravings and acting upon them by getting high on fentanyl, heroin, prescription painkillers, or some other opiate. This highly addictive nature of the drug is one of the reasons that makes the opiate crisis so concerning.
It is easy to develop an opiate addiction, even after taking opiates for a short period of time. The first step is tolerance, meaning that the user has to take increasing amounts of opiates to feel the same high. Next, physical dependence manifests, as the user starts to withdraw from the drug soon after coming down from a high. The last stage is psychological dependence, which manifests as cravings. This is the nadir of opiate addiction.
Hopefully this article has given you a deeper understanding of not only the opioid crisis, but of what those on the frontlines of the battle- the opiate addicts- are experiencing. Opiates are undeniably addictive and dangerous, which you know firsthand if you or a loved one is experiencing addiction to them. Many people let the stigma or other barriers deter them from seeking the treatment they need. Don’t let that happen. Recreate Life provides a variety of services including: individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, medical and psychiatric services, case management services, alumni support and more. Opiate addiction is deplorable- but recovery is possible, so contact the trusted care professionals at Recreate Life today.