The Opioid Epidemic: Key Facts Everyone Should Know


Since the 1990s, the entire country has been locked in one of the most crushing health crises in its history: the opioid epidemic.

Even now, decades later, millions of people in the US are still struggling with such an addiction, whether it’s prescription opioids or illicit drugs like heroin. Still, there are ways to break free from this affliction and lead a happy, sober life.

Find out key details about the opioid crisis and what treatment options are available below.

A Brief Overview of the Opioid Epidemic

The need for effective pain management is not new, and neither is the urge for people to seek solutions outside of the doctor’s office.

In the 1850s, people started using unregulated medications like morphine and opium, which is widely considered the first US opioid crisis. Later on, heroin, a synthetic morphine alternative, began to make waves as a non-addictive painkiller.

By the 1980s, doctors became even more concerned with pain management as they saw an increase in chronic pain patients. Opioids were considered the best solution at the time, but only for treating acute pain or symptoms related to cancer.

In the 1990s, the opioid crisis took a significant turn when the drug company Purdue Pharma launched OxyContin, which they claimed was a long-acting opioid that patients could take only every 12 hours as opposed to every 6 hours. It was a painkiller for everyone, not just those battling cancer.

The company also launched a massive and aggressive marketing strategy to promote its new product. Their main message was that OxyContin was not only more effective than other drugs at managing pain but also less addictive.

Throughout the 2000s and 2010s, numerous studies, lawsuits, investigations, and articles have shown that Purdue Pharma misrepresented its product. But by the time this information came to light, most of the country was already hooked.

Essential Health Statistics to Know

Between 1999 and 2016, there were an estimated 494,316 deaths involving prescription opioids.

But determining the exact number of deaths involving opioids is difficult. Overdose deaths only account for a fraction of the statistics since addiction may create additional hurdles that could prove fatal.

The latest data from the Center For Disease Control shows:

  • Deaths involving synthetic opioids increased by 56% from 2019 to 2020 (mostly fentanyl)
  • Prescription opioid overdoses increased by 17%
  • Deaths involving heroin decreased by 7% within the same timeframe
  • 74.8% of drug overdose deaths involved opioids in 2020
  • 82.3% of opioid overdose deaths involved synthetic opioids

As far as opioid use disorder and heroin addiction go, the numbers are even harder to determine. It’s estimated that over 3 million people in the US have or are currently dealing with opioid abuse, while half a million are addicted to heroin.

The opioid crisis has caused irreparable damage to society, from economic downturns to broken families and the loss of loved ones. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Today, people battling opioid use disorders have several ways to overcome their affliction and lead better lives, thanks to the extensive research done on prescription and synthetic opioids.

Are Opioids Addictive?

Part of the fuel that led to opioid misuse was the claim that certain types, such as oxycodone, were non-addictive, especially when compared to heroin and other illicit drugs.

In the middle of the public outcry, some even doubled down on this claim and attempted to blame patients for the growing opioid use disorder rates and overdose deaths. It was not the drug that caused the addiction but the predisposition of the people taking it.

Researchers have disproven these claims. Opioids are highly addictive substances, and the Centers for Disease Control now has stricter guidelines on how these prescription painkillers can be given to patients. These recommendations are one of many efforts to lower the drug overdose death rates involving opioids.

Opioid Addiction Treatment Options

For a person currently addicted to opioids, knowing the history of the crisis only helps so far.

People need several strategies that can address both their physical need for the substance and any underlying factors that contribute to their addiction to overcome a dependency on opioid medications,

Some of these strategies include:

1. Medications

Several drugs can help alter brain chemistry and block the pleasant effects of opioids. When people don’t get the rewards of using these substances, they may have an easier time overcoming their addiction.

The most common medications used to treat opioid dependency are naltrexone, methadone, and buprenorphine. They are often used as part of a larger treatment framework.

2. Rehab Facilities

These are specialized centers that provide treatment for most types of substance use disorders and can monitor a patient throughout multiple stages of recovery.

Two types of rehab facilities can help with opioid addiction:

  • In-patient: here, people are admitted to the facility and receive 24/7 care. In-patient rehab centers also provide a safe way to detox from opioids, heroin, and other substances.
  • Outpatient: people can still live at home but receive their treatment at the rehab center. Outpatient services are usually recommended after a person has undergone treatment in an in-patient facility.

Such facilities may provide the most comprehensive approach to recovery since their treatment plans often include both medications to cut cravings and physical dependency and several types of behavioral therapies.

3. Support Groups

While support groups don’t treat addiction, they can play a critical role in a person’s sobriety. The purpose of these groups is to bring together people with a shared experience who can lean on each other for help.

Addiction is a lonely disease, and friends and family members may not be able to relate to the struggles of a person in recovery, despite their best efforts. Support groups offer a safe space for those in recovery to seek help and even admit they are struggling, which they may not be comfortable doing with loved ones.

4. Therapy and Counseling

Addiction is never only about physical dependency on a substance. Even if a person successfully goes through detox and receives counseling in an in-person rehab center, staying away from opioids is a lifelong effort.

This effort is often easier to manage when the person in recovery understands the underlying emotional or psychological factors that either contributed to or are even responsible for their addiction.

As is the case with support groups, therapy and counseling sessions are also a safe space for someone to talk openly about their struggles. In this case, they can also receive essential insights into their behavior and build healthier coping mechanisms that may help them remain sober.

Can You Successfully Overcome an Opioid Addiction?

The numbers on opioid relapses don’t instill a lot of confidence, to say the least. Experts say that the majority of people abstaining from opioids relapse in the first year.

This could be explained by the highly addictive nature of this drug, but several social factors also contribute to it. For instance, people battling opioid dependency are more likely to come from a lower socioeconomic background, be unemployed, and single when compared to those with alcohol addiction.

These factors suggest that people battling opioid addictions may face additional hardships during recovery because they lack the proper support network or resources to overcome their affliction. Among the reasons why those who abstain from opioids relapse are extreme cravings, perceived criticism from others, and a desire to feel better.

Those in recovery need to take several steps to support their sobriety and prevent relapse, which can include:

  • Continuing therapy even after their detox treatments
  • Building a stronger support system
  • Receiving medical treatment to cut cravings
  • Learn healthier coping strategies, etc.

Should relapse happen despite all these efforts, hope is not lost. People can still reclaim their sobriety and seek other treatment strategies that can help them live fuller and healthier lives.

Wrapping Up

The consequences of the opioid epidemic are still unfolding, and until experts get all the details, there are millions of people struggling to find a silver lining.

Even with the right care, fighting opioid or prescription drug addiction is a lifelong struggle. People often need several methods to help them remain sober and strong support networks they can fall back on when necessary.

Curednation aims to contribute to this healthy support network through remote opioid care that anyone can access whenever they need it. We encourage you to learn more about our telemedicine services and schedule an appointment to gain access to a safe recovery space.


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