According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 115 people in the United States die after using opioids every day. The most common of these opioids are prescription pain medication, heroin, and fentanyl. The Centers for Disease Control says that prescription pain medication alone costs the United States $78.8 billion a year in lost productivity, health care, addiction services, and court costs.
The prescription opioid crisis began in the 1990s when doctors were assured by drug manufacturers that patients would not become addicted to these new pain relievers. Doctors, in turn, began prescribing them frequently. Soon, misuse turned to severe addiction and overdose rates. What is more, about 4-6 percent of people who misuse prescription opioids turn to heroin use and conversely, 80 percent of people who use heroin began by overtaking prescription pain medication.
What Can Be Done to Reverse the Opioid Epidemic?
While eliminating the opioid crisis altogether may not be possible, there are ways to reduce the number of deaths from overdoses. Some recent government policies have focused on keeping the drug supply from entering the United States in the first place. But actionable options exist for the more immediate future. Experts believe there are four areas to focus on in order to fight the opioid crisis.
Area 1: Treatment
Abstinence is not the only treatment method available to help opioid addicts. Effective medication exists for opioid addiction. However, there is a stigma around this type of treatment with many people believing it is a practice of substituting one drug for another without addressing the dependency on either. Medications like Methadone and Suboxone stop the cycle of an addict using the drugs to stave off withdrawal symptoms. The medications are opioids themselves but given in a safe medical setting and as prescribed do not produce the same effects. Some addicts take the medicinal alternative for the rest of their lives to avoid relapse; others are able to wean themselves off it altogether.
Area 2: Harm Reduction
Another medication that can be useful in fighting the number of deaths caused by opioid overdose is Naloxone. This drug can be administered during an overdose and reverses the reaction within minutes. It works by pushing out and blocking opioids from brain receptors. If medical supply kits in public places, like airplanes and office buildings, contained Naloxone, more people could be saved from overdose death.
Area 3: Supply
One of the easiest ways to reduce opioid addiction and overdose may be to simply reduce opioid prescriptions. That is not to say that doctors should not ever prescribe opioids, especially if they are the best option for certain patients. What it means is that patients should be given minimal doses and not given refills without seeing a doctor. In addition, pharmacies should monitor prescriptions.
Area 4: Root Cause
Treating the cause of addiction is not an easy task. It needs to be a multi-agency effort that includes governmental agencies, public health agencies, mental health workers, and the medical community. Addiction often spreads in communities for social and economic reasons. Cities and states need to identify and look at the underlying issues that lead community members to overuse opioids rather than choosing different paths. Clinics, safe injection sites, medical addiction treatment centers, economic stimulus programs, and meaningful work programs are all options in helping to bring opioid addicts help.
If you think working to end the opioid crisis in America is a task you are committed to, consider becoming a therapist or counselor for those affected by addiction. Depending on where you already are in your career trajectory, Grand Canyon University has the right program for you.
To learn more about how Grand Canyon University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences provides students with the skills to help their community members fight addiction, visit our website or click the Request More Information Button on this page.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Opioid Overdose Crisis.” NIDA, 6 Mar. 2018,
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Prescription Opioid Use Is a Risk Factor for Heroin Use.” NIDA, www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/relationship-between-prescription-drug-heroin-abuse/prescription-opioid-use-risk-factor-heroin-use.
- Correll, Robyn. “What Caused the Opioid Crisis?” Verywell Health, Verywellhealth, www.verywellhealth.com/what-caused-the-opioid-crisis-4167615.