February 14, 2018 — San Diego, CA. When trying to understand the current state of the opioid addiction problem in America it’s important to understand how this opioid epidemic came to be. It didn’t happen overnight.
Since the 1990s big powerful pharmaceutical companies began aggressive and potentially fraudulent marketing schemes to drive sales of opioid based drugs like OxyContin.
Big Pharma has a known track record spending more money marketing to doctors than on drug research. Pharmaceutical companies pay doctors in the form of meals, speaking gigs, literature, travel and more, and have been doing so for years. Until recently, however, it remained unclear just how much Big Pharma was spending and which doctors were accepting its contributions.
Read more on money spent on doctor’s here: https://www.nationalinjuryhelp.com/dangerous-drugs/doctors-big-pharma-money/
It’s because of this big money marketing to doctors, combined with the drop in heroin prices led many down the road to addiction. What started as a real medical need to manage pain ends up creating a nation of addict’s.
It goes something like this: Elizabeth was hurt in a terrible car accident and suffered broken bones and spinal fractures causing unbearable pain. Her doctor prescribes an opioid based brand name drug that he heard about just last week while having a free lunch from a pharmaceutical sales representative.
She begins her regimented legal prescription and gets pain relief. The pills are working really well to help manage her pain. Her prescription is used up and she needs more.
She returns to her doctor for more pills. However her doctor, now under pressure from the state’s prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs), is now hesitant to write her a new prescription for the same medication, or ANY opioid related pain killers.
Without her pain killers she is unable to function in daily life. She’s been missing more work, it’s difficult to make meals for her children, and her husband is seeing changes in her overall mood.
She is on the verge of something drastic. She hears from a good friend, who recently went through something similar. Her friend manages pain with the use of non-prescribed pain pills she bought off the streets.
She offers Elizabeth a couple of pills. That’s all it took for Elizabeth, who lives with daily pain, a new way to get relief. She now seeks out illicit drugs to feel better. This now puts her in danger in a multitude of ways.
Let’s look to the National Institute of Drug Abuse for some answers.
Opioid Reports from the National Institute of Drug Abuse
“The misuse of, and addiction to opioids such as heroin and prescription pain medicines is a serious national problem that affects public health as well as social and economic welfare.
An estimated 1.9 million people in the United States suffered from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain medicines in 2014, and 586,000 suffered from a heroin use disorder.
This issue has become a public health epidemic with devastating consequences including not just increases in opioid use disorders and related fatalities from overdoses, but also the rising incidence of newborns who experience neonatal abstinence syndrome because their mothers used these substances during pregnancy; and the increased spread of infectious diseases including HIV and hepatitis C (HCV), as was seen in 2015 in southern Indiana.
Existing evidence based prevention and treatment strategies are highly underutilized across the United States. In 2015, the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) launched an initiative to address the complex problem of prescription opioid and heroin abuse in this country that emphasizes the implementation of evidence based prevention and treatment strategies to improve prescribing practices, deployment of the medication naloxone to reverse overdoses, and access to medication‑assisted treatment (MAT) to treat opioid use disorders.
In October of 2015, President Obama also announced a number of important new public and private steps being taken to combat the epidemic of prescription drug abuse and heroin use, focused on improved prescriber training and access to treatment. NIDA is an active partner in these efforts and is focused on supporting research and disseminating findings to improve opioid prescribing practices, expand the use of the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone, improve the integration of “MAT” pharmacotherapies like buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone into treatment services in primary and specialty care, and to develop more effective pain treatments with reduced potential for misuse and diversion.”
The age groups most in danger from the opioid epidemic are young adults in their 20s and early 30s.
New evidence and studies show that the opioid epidemic is splitting into two segments, the younger drug users growing addicted to, and overdosing from, heroin or fentanyl rather than prescription pills.
“About 150 Americans are going to die today, just today, while we’re meeting,” U.S. District Judge Dan Polster of Cleveland, Ohio, said earlier this month. “And in my humble opinion, everyone shares some of the responsibility, and no one has done enough to abate it.”
Where are prescription opioid and heroin-related overdose hospitalizations happening?
According to the US National Library of Medicine:
Prescription opioid overdose-related (POD) hospitalization rates were highest in the South and lowest in the Northeast. Heroin overdose-related (HOD) hospitalization rates were highest in the Northeast region and grew the fastest in the Midwest. There was statistically significant heterogeneity in HOD trends but not POD trends across the four regions between 2000 and 2014. Between 2012 and 2014 POD rates decreased in eight of the nine census divisions, with only New England showing an increase. HOD hospitalization rates increased in all nine census divisions between 2012 and 2014. Both POD and HOD rates show different demographic patterns across the nine census divisions.
Comparing POD and HOD hospitalization trends reveals significant disparities in geographic as well as demographic distributions. These epidemics are evolving and the simple opioid-to-heroin transition story is both supported and challenged by this paper. The opioid pill, heroin and fentanyl crises are intertwined yet increasingly have drivers and outcomes that support examining them as distinct. Addressing these complex and interrelated epidemics will require innovative public health research and interventions which need to consider local and regional contexts.
What can you do if you or a loved one has been affected by the opioid epidemic?
If you or a loved one has suffered due to an opioid-prescription overdose or an overdose on heroin after an initial addiction to pain medication, we understand that it’s not your fault! We here to help and you may qualify for a cash award and substantial financial compensation.