Opioid medications, sometimes known as pain relievers, are the most widely prescribed class of drugs worldwide. While the United States represents about five percent of the world’s population, it consumes 80 percent of the global opioid supply. Not surprisingly, the U.S. is also suffering from the most severe opioid addiction and overdose crisis it has ever experienced. But, this didn’t happen overnight. Several factors contributed to the unprecedented use – and misuse – of opioids in this country.
In a recent hearing before Congress, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb spoke about the devastating impact of the opioid epidemic and what his agency is doing to address it. While Dr. Gottlieb is not the first to note the massive scale of this crisis, he did bring up one often-overlooked component of its much-needed solution – distinguishing between an opioid addiction and a physical dependence on opioids. Although frequently conflated, differentiating between these two conditions is essential to break the stigma associated with what has proven to be the most effective form of opioid addiction treatment: medication-assisted treatment (MAT) – a treatment approach that combines the use of medications such as methadone and buprenorphine with behavioral counseling.
President Trump indicated that he will declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency in a “major announcement” next week. While the president called the epidemic a national emergency in August, he has not yet issued a formal declaration, leaving many to wonder: if a national emergency is declared, what type of approach will the president actually take? Will the president embrace the public health approach outlined in the Surgeon General’s report or revert to a “war on drugs” strategy? Unfortunately, signals from the president’s administration have been conflicting.
In our most recent poll, we asked readers if there is a difference between an opioid and an opiate. Approximately 65 percent of people responded with the correct answer: yes. But, do you know what that difference is?
As addiction to opioids is ravaging our country, parents and community groups continue to ask us what they can do to prevent addiction in their families and community. In response to these questions, we’ve developed a list of things you can do to help prevent and/or stop addiction, especially among adolescents.
As the opioid epidemic continues and the number of overdose deaths climbs, naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug also known by the brand name Narcan, has become even more important. While it’s not a treatment for opioid addiction, naloxone has the ability to bring individuals experiencing an overdose back from the brink of death. Because of its life-saving abilities, public health leaders agree it is essential that naloxone remain widely accessible to medical centers, first responders and private citizens.
As our nation continues to be in the throes of the worst opioid epidemic in its history, a serious but not widely recognized consequence is the surge in newborns born to mothers who used opioids during pregnancy. These babies can experience painful opioid withdrawal symptoms, known as Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS).
Since 1999, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids, including prescription opioid pain relievers and heroin, has nearly quadrupled. In September, for the first time, the White House designated a Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week. As part of this awareness week, President Obama called for expanding access to prevention and treatment services for opioid use disorders.
As we continue to read and hear dire stories about the heroin epidemic, new and more dangerous opioids seem to be emerging at a rapid pace. Another narcotic that is now a part of this epidemic is called carfentanil. Though it is sold mixed into – or “cut” with – heroin and other drugs, carfentanil is so potent that even the smallest dose can cause an overdose and death.
Stories surrounding opioid addiction tend to be overwhelmingly negative and dire, often leaving people with little hope. This week – which President Obama proclaimed as Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week – I’d like to shift the conversation and talk about how one state has taken extraordinary measures in responding to the opioid epidemic.
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