The Opiate Epidemic: A National Crisis

The Opiate Epidemic is Our Greatest National Health Crisis

We’ve written here before that overdoses are occurring in the United States at a rate of one every 19 minutes.  But the overdose numbers have actually exploded since that statistic was tallied (in 2012), so it is safe to assume that overdoses are occurring much more frequently than that.

The two main phenomenon that have fueled the crisis are:

  1. The rise in availability of opioid medications like OxyContin
  2. The easy availability of heroin
 The Rise of OxyContin

OxyContin is the face of the opiate epidemic and deservedly so.  The drug has basically been phased out in favor of more reasonable drugs (that are less habit forming and more difficult to abuse), but upon it’s release in 1996, OxyContin quickly became a preferred drug of abuse for a large portion of drug abusers in North America (particularly in Appalachia).  The drug is so pure and strong that the effects are analogous to taking a shot of heroin. The active ingredient in OxyContin is the same as what is found in heroin. Calling OxyContin “legal heroin” is basically true.

Along with OxyContin, many other prescription drugs became widely abused and sought after.  Other painkillers like Vicodin (hydrocodone), Fentanyl, Percocet, and oxycodone based substances.  Also, benzodiazepine drugs like Xanax also became highly sought after and have the distinction of being very deadly themselves, especially in combination with other drugs or alcohol.

Heroin: Throwing Gasoline on the Fire

Just as the effects of OxyContin or other oxycodone based drugs are similar to those of heroin, so are the withdrawal symptoms similar. Experiencing withdrawals from opiate drugs has been described as “passing through the gates of hell,” and include nausea, violent shaking, bone pain, incredible bouts of anxiety and depression. It is much more difficult for addicted individuals to obtain prescription drugs (very expensive and in limited supply) than find heroin in their community (which drug cartels have ensured is increasingly available in all neighborhoods).

The leap from abusing pills to injecting heroin might seem like major step that your average suburban high school kid would rather quit using or ask someone for help to avoid, but the cravings for opiates during the withdrawal period is so severe that many abusers of prescription drugs make the transition to street heroin out of desperation to find relief. Street heroin is much more widely available and a fraction of the price of a prescription pill like OxyContin or Fentanyl.

Opiate Overdose by State

The result of this transition to heroin has been even more accidental overdoses, as dosages widely vary for each batch of heroin. Also, there has been a huge increase in the spread of other diseases like HIV and hepatitis from the sharing of infected needles.

Mapping the Opiate Epidemic

Recently, we’ve seen two interesting articles on and on that provided a visual insight into the spread of of the opiate epidemic. See the maps to your right. The first map (from shows at a state level how frequently people overdose. The second map (from shows a more granular look at counties.

Getting Help for an Opioid Dependency
Overdoses county Guardian

As you can see from these graphics. The time is now to get help if you or someone you know is struggling with an opiate abuse problem. Every time the person uses opiate drugs they are putting themselves “at risk” for a fatal overdose.  People are succumbing to overdose in record numbers as drug overdose now causes more fatalities than handguns and auto accidents combined.

If you need help, contact an addiction treatment center or an addiction counselor in your area.  If you are worried about someone who is in denial that they have a problem, an interventionist can help you steer that person to accepting help.  The one thing that you do not want to do is wait until the person hits bottom or until the problem goes away.  This is how many families approached the problem who have had to bury their loved one due to an accidental overdose.

You can contact the treatment team at Beach City anytime by calling us at (877)228-2401.  We will be happy to provide a complimentary and confidential assessment of your situation and discuss what treatment options are available to you.


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