The Opioid Epidemic: Information for Parents
22nd May 2019
22nd May 2019
Back in the late 1990s, people began using prescription and non-prescription opioid drugs with increasing frequency. Throughout the past few decades, these potent and dangerous painkillers have become more popular globally, and have caused a massive spike in overdose deaths around the world. In 1999, 4000 Americans died from overdose deaths. By 2017 that number had ballooned to 72000, and over 2/3s of overdose deaths that year were related to opioid use. The opioid epidemic has seen drug overdoses become the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. Here’s what parents need to know about this horrific threat to their children’s well-being...
Opioids: what are they?
Opioids are a class of moderately to extremely strong painkillers that include oxycodone (marketed as OxyContin and Percocet), hydrocodone (Vicodin and Norco), and fentanyl, which is synthesized to act as an opiate, similar to morphine and heroin. According to WebMd, opioids work by “binding to opioid receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and other areas of the body. They reduce the sending of pain messages to the brain and reduce feelings of pain. Opioids are used to treat moderate to severe pain that may not respond well to other pain medications.” Because this class of drug is extremely potent and widely available, opioids have become popular both as a medical treatment and as a recreational drug.
How did the opioid epidemic get started?
Because of morphine abuse in the late 1800s and early 1900s, doctors were initially reluctant to prescribe opioids, and their use in medicine was quite rare until the 1980s. In 1980, an article in the New England Journal of Medicine titled “Addiction Rare in Patients Treated With Narcotics” generated a great deal of attention, and, coupled with lobbying and promotion from the pharmaceutical industry, convinced doctors that opioids could be safely prescribed. In 2017, the NEJM published a rebuttal of the article, stating that the “conclusions were based on hospitalized patients only, and not on patients taking the drugs after they were sent home.” Meanwhile, the study’s author, Dr. Herschel Jick has stated that he never intended to justify widespread opioid use.
Is the opioid epidemic happening only in the USA?
While 80% of global opioid use occurs in the USA, the opioid crisis has spread across the globe, and young people are at a higher risk than others. In Europe, Canada and Australia, prescription drug abuse rates among teenagers are similar to the USA. Studies in Lebanon, China and Saudi Arabia have found that 1 in 10 teenagers had used painkillers for non-medical purposes, and statistics from Europe show that prescription opioids account for 3/4s of overdose deaths among those aged 15 to 39. Meanwhile, in the UK, 3756 people died from drug poisoning in 2017, the highest number on record. Fears exist that the opioid crisis could grow into a global pandemic.
How does the opioid epidemic compare to previous drug scares?
Sadly, the answer to this question is absolutely yes. Opioids have a sedative effect on the parts of the brain which regulate breathing, which causes respiratory depression, respiratory failure, and far too often, death. Mike Stobbe, a medical writer for the Associated Press, writes that “there were fewer than 3,000 overdose deaths in 1979, when a heroin epidemic was raging in U.S. cities. There were fewer than 5,000 recorded in 1988, around the height of the crack epidemic. More than 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses last year , according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
What is fentanyl?
Perhaps the most terrifying part of this whole horrorshow is fentanyl, a new synthetic opioid painkiller that is 50-100 times stronger than morphine, and 30-50 times more potent than heroin. Pure white, odorless and scentless, fentanyl can be lethal in doses of just 2 milligrams! The drug is so potent that police and first responders have overdosed just from touching it or inhaling small amounts. It’s estimated that $800 million worth of fentanyl pills have been shipped to the US from China over the past two years, and AP reporters recently found Chinese manufacturers ready and willing to ship carfentanyl, an elephant tranquilizer so powerful that it has been labeled a chemical weapon.
Deaths from fentanyl have increased by 540% since 2015, and they account for the largest number of opioid overdose deaths. Heroin, cocaine, and other drugs often contain fentanyl, and accidental overdose deaths caused by unknowing consumption of fentanyl are becoming more common. The deaths of Prince and Mac Miller were both fentanyl-related. A US Attorney in Ohio, a region hard hit by the opioid crisis, recently warned that “One of the truly terrifying things is the pills are pressed and dyed to look like oxycodone. If you are using oxycodone and take fentanyl not knowing it is fentanyl, that is an overdose waiting to happen. Each of those pills is a potential overdose death.” The American DEA claims that a kilogram of fentanyl can be bought in China for $3,000 to $5,000, then smuggled into the United States to generate over $1.5 million. The profitability of this drug leads traffickers to adulterate other drugs with fentanyl without the knowledge of the drug user.
What can we do?
While various governments have declared states of emergency and vowed to take measures to address this crisis, drug users and their families can’t afford to wait on legislative solutions. Opioid addiction comes with a ghastly collection of risks, and we would urge anyone suffering from it to look for immediate detox and treatment. Iboga treatment has been proven to be very effective for many addicts who abuse oxycodone and other members of the opioid family of drugs, eliminating many of the withdrawal symptoms and cravings related to opioid dependence.
Abusing opioids is a game of Russian Roulette. It’s time to stop playing and get the help you need!