The Opioid Epidemic: How Did It Start and What Can We Do?

Just one generation ago, people rarely said the word addiction, but today, we face an opioid epidemic. How can that happen so quickly, you ask? The truth is misinformation got us where we are today. Back when opioids first came out, many believed they were not habit-forming. No one really thought they were addictive. As time went on, the truth about how addictive opioids truly are became apparent. Today, this epidemic is taking more than 100 lives a day in the U.S. alone, and by all accounts, will continue to do so until something stops the process.

A massive amount of pills and tablet medication being poured onto a white surface.
The Opioid Epidemic is Taking More Than 100 Lives a Day (Image Source: Pixabay)

The Early Days of the Opioid Crisis

Originally, when opioids first appeared, doctors were told by their makers the pills would not lead to addiction. It was this message that led to the increase in prescriptions world-wide, but heavily in the United States. Unfortunately, it did not take long for those manufacturers to be proven wrong. People started getting addicted to the relief of opioids, as well as their pleasureful effects, nearly immediately. Since then, there have been few medications that have come out that rival the effectiveness of opioids at managing chronic pain. This leaves them as one of the only options some patients have when their pain is non-stop or overwhelming.

The Opioid Crisis – Demystifying Medicine

As doctors tried prescribing opioids less, more people started turning to illegal options as a way to cope. They did not want to. However, their bodies were already different from the opioids. Opioids change the way the brain works by adhering to the receptors in the brain that transmit pain and pleasure signals. When opioids bind to those receptors, the brain gets mixed signals. The brain tells the body that the medication is not working like it should. This causes the need for more, higher doses, or earlier doses. Then, if someone like the doctor takes those medications away, the brain tells the person to seek the same results elsewhere. This is when many turn to options like fentanyl and heroin.

The Truth About Opioid Epidemic Statistics

When it comes to how startling the opioid epidemic statistics are, they really do put the wide abuse of these medications in perspective. Unfortunately, they do not jar people enough to get many of them to find alternatives for their pain. Here are some facts that people need to know when it comes to where the opioid epidemic is today.

America’s Epidemic of Opioid Abuse – Healthcare Triage

There were approximately 10 million people who misused some type of opioid during 2018.

More than 20% of people currently taking a prescription opioid either has or will misuse it.

Out of the people who misuse their medication, around 5% will turn to heroin as a way to try and regain that high.

In 2018 alone, just shy of 50,000 people died as a direct result of opioid overdose. By the end of 2018, doctors were still prescribing more than 50 opioid prescriptions per 100 people in the United States.

How Do People Stop the Opioid Epidemic?

There are several options to try and slow the opioid epidemic. It all starts with education. People need to know they have options when it comes to chronic pain. Not all pain will be made better through the use of pills. In fact, many pills leave the person in worse pain. This often is because the opioids can increase your sensitivity to pain, or could give you a false sense of being pain-free. That, in turn, could lead to you overdoing it and hurting yourself all over again.

Instead of having such a heavy reliance on opioids, people need to look elsewhere for relief. One example would be going through physical therapy to relieve pain. This is often done after a serious injury, but in many cases, is over before the patient makes a full recovery. Extending the therapy or continuing it at home could help complete the recovery and negate the need for opioids.

Alternative Therapy for Pain: Fighting the Opioid Crisis

Another option would be looking into herbal remedies that could help ease the pain. Many people are totally unaware that they even have options other than opioids. There are some herbal options out there that many believe can be equally as effective as opioids, if not more so. Take kratom, for example. It is something that can be taken from a tree and used to naturally ease pain. It is not like opioids, but many who take it have found similar levels of pain relief. However, not all doctors are open to discussing these options when a patient comes to them in pain.

Other Options for Decreasing the Opioid Epidemic

Aside from education, the next best way to help decrease the opioid epidemic is to help ease the burden of those who face an addiction. Opioid addiction is difficult to get through, and many who suffer from an addiction feel too much stigma to get help. By making opioid withdrawal treatment options more widely available, addicts may realize there is help out there. Whether the addict opts for rehab or a more holistic way of overcoming the addiction, the result is the same. The addict gets help, stops using and abusing opioids, and the epidemic gets one step closer to being under control.

Until more people know what options they have for treating pain, opioids are going to remain constant. However, we all can make choices to ensure that we do not abuse them or use them when unnecessary. For anyone struggling with an opioid addiction, know that you have options and that there is help out there. If you cannot get into rehab, then know that an herbal option may be exactly what you need to start your recovery journey. Take the time to talk with your doctor and find out what alternatives you may have. You might just find out that something natural could ease your pain just as well without the risks associated with opioids.