What is an opioid?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, morphine, and many others.”
Are they all illegal?
No—a doctor may prescribe an opioid as a form of painkiller for a patient. However, abusing prescribed drugs is illegal. Frequently in the opioid crisis, a person is originally prescribed a kind of opioid for pain management, and that person then becomes addicted. That person then might abuse their prescription or seek other forms of opioids, such as heroine, which is always illegal.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse says that “Opioid pain relievers are generally safe when taken for a short time and as prescribed by a doctor, but because they produce euphoria in addition to pain relief, they can be misused (taken in a different way or in a larger quantity than prescribed, or taken without a doctor’s prescription). Regular use—even as prescribed by a doctor—can lead to dependence, and, when misused, opioid pain relievers can lead to addiction, overdose incidents, and deaths.”
How bad is the opioid crisis?
As of March 2018, 115 people die every single day in the United States from overdosing on opioids. Besides the toll this crisis takes on individuals and their families, there is also a hefty economic burden associated with the crisis. This includes “the cost of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.” The cost of this burden is $78.5 billion a year.
The opioid crisis has done serious damage to not only families all across America, but to towns and cities all across the country.
How did the opioid crisis begin?
The opioid crisis began within the pharmaceutical industry. According to the National Institute, “In the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies reassured the medical community that patients would not become addicted to prescription opioid pain relievers, and healthcare providers began to prescribe them at greater rates. This subsequently led to widespread diversion and misuse of these medications before it became clear that these medications could indeed become highly addictive.” This means that opioids were prescribed frequently by doctors to people who were simply seeking pain relief, but often over prescribed these patients. The patient might take more opioids than they needed in order to safely manage their pain, or they might have excess pills which could be given to someone else. Nevertheless, even taking the prescribed amount of opioids could easily lead to a serious addiction.
A disturbingly high amount of people who use illegal forms of opioids had their start with abusing opioids approved by the FDA: “About 80 percent of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids.”
What are specific challenges facing the opioid crisis?
One of the foremost challenges facing the opioid crisis is the sheer gravity of it. According to this Vox article, about 2.1 million people in America are abusing or addicted to opioids. And 2.1 million is considered to be an extremely conservative estimate.
The vast nature of the opioid crisis is one problem. The tools we have to confront this crisis is a whole other problem. For one thing, Americans have a long history of not being very sympathetic to drug users. This general feeling that drug abuse is a personal problem, and not a problem that a community must face together, has violent consequences. Vox writer German Lopez writes, “Experts attribute this apathy to stigma: While doctors and experts know addiction is a medical condition, much of the public views it more as a moral failure.”
In the face of a crisis that has gained so much strength because of the failure of not one but several systems, it is not enough to blame addiction and overdoses on the moral ineptitude of, at a very minimum, 2.1 million Americans.
What can we do?
Americans need greater access to the help they need in order to overcome their addiction to opioids. That means greater access to medication-assisted treatments, the leading treatment in the opioid crisis. However, accessibility to treatment is a serious obstacle in rural and poverty-stricken areas, where the opioid crisis has hit hard, and where medical professionals are lacking.
That’s why Apportis is working with the state of Ohio to bring medication-assisted treatment to people who need it. Through kiosks placed at clinics, hospitals, and homeless shelters, people can seek treatment by getting ePrescribed and counseled by fully-trained medical professionals.
At this time in our country, and in our state, we need effective, accessible healthcare that can truly make a difference in people’s lives.
Apportis is uniquely positioned to provide just that—and we are up to the challenge.