It’s not a secret that the U.S. has had a problem with drugs for several years. But far from the soundbites frequently aired about the war on drugs and marijuana legalization, some of the most devastating drug problems many Americans face aren’t discussed nearly as openly. Opioid dependence and addiction in particular have become increasingly prevalent over the past 25 years. There is more than one reason for this increase, but a major factor is the number of pain relievers being prescribed to Americans.
Over the Counter and Under the Radar
Opioids are prescribed by medical professionals for patients with severe and chronic pain. If someone is suffering from severe discomfort of almost any kind due to any circumstance, opioids essentially reduce the sensation of pain by attaching to opioid receptors in the body. This effect can induce a sense of euphoria in patients, which can lead to physical dependance and eventually addiction.
Even after a patient’s injury or ailment has been fully treated or cured, the physical desire for the sensations caused by opioids can turn into an addiction to these drugs. Some are more susceptible to this dependence than others, but once the dependence is there it can be extremely difficult to overcome. Today about 1.9 million Americans abuse or are dependent on opioids. And yet this issue is rarely discussed on the news or by politicians, perhaps because it isn’t as attention-grabbing as drug-related street crime, or amusing as the endless debates on the harms and benefits of marijuana legalization.
The Escalation of Addiction
Prescription opioid pain relievers aren’t cheap or readily available after the patient has recovered. This is why 75% of those who become addicted to these drugs seek a cheaper and more prevalent option: heroin. In only a decade (between 2002 and 2013), heroin addiction in America has increased 63%. There is substantial evidence that this tragic rise in heroin use is closely related to the rise in over the counter opioid pain treatment.
The number of deaths caused by heroin overdose has also been on the rise over the past decade. Users seek a high that will bring them to the initial euphoric state they experienced early on in their opioid use. However, larger doses of the drug are needed to achieve this sensation, which can become fatal for those with this addiction.
Opioid Dependence Treatment Centers
Fortunately, there are a growing number of treatment centers in the U.S. to help those with opioid addiction and dependence. It’s important for people to realize that addiction to these drugs is not the fault of the addict, but a physiological response that occurs when the body and brain become used to the effects of the drugs. Therefore, ridding oneself of this dependence requires more than just mental effort, but also dosages of drugs like suboxone (buprenorphine and naloxone), which treat opioid addiction while providing pain relief.
Both inpatient and outpatient treatment centers are available to those with opioid addiction. Inpatient centers are typically more community based and for more severe cases, where people with similar conditions can come together and support one another. Outpatient rehabilitation allows one the freedom to work and attend to normal daily activities while still receiving important medical and social support.