The Opioid Epidemic ravaging our country is taking a grim and growing toll. The National Institutes of Health have reported that in 2020 ALONE, 91,799 Americans were killed by drug-involved overdoses and 68,630 of those deaths were caused by opioids. To be even more specific, 16,416 of the deaths were caused by PRESCRIPTION opioids and 13,165 of these deaths were caused by heroin. By comparison, opioids killed more people in 2020 than the 38,824 individuals killed in car accidents, 45,222 by guns, and more than the 40,000 from breast cancer. Overdoses are killing people at a faster pace than the HIV epidemic at its peak.
We are experiencing the deadliest drug crisis in American history. But let's be honest - it didn't just happen. The current catastrophe really started in the 1980s. A handful of highly influential journal articles relaxed the fears of doctors prescribing opioids (pain killers) for chronic pain. Big pharma took note, and in the mid-1990s Purdue aggressively and fraudulently marketed OxyContin. There was a new focus on patient satisfaction and the elimination of pain. Americans decided that physical or emotional pain was not an option and doctors were ready to prescribe the solution - pharmaceutical narcotics.
Pill mills started popping up around the country as communities were flooded with overprescribed opioids and manufacturers were making billions. Over the next decade, millions and millions of people began taking these medications and thousands became addicted. For many, what started as pills evolved into heroin addiction. Heroin was cheaper and drug distribution networks began pushing it into suburban and rural areas where it had never been before. Disturbingly, everywhere the suppliers went there was a desperate and willing customer base primed for addiction by years of prescription opiate use.
Fast forward two decades and we find ourselves in the middle of a full-blown national health hazard. Many can share the blame. Physicians, pharmaceutical companies, insurers, greed, uninformed users, patients, supply and demand. Much needs to be done in order to reduce the devastation of these drugs, and prevention through education is paramount. Overprescribing opioids has to be eliminated along with making addiction treatment quicker, more affordable, and easier to access. Unfortunately, none of this will work unless we first and foremost erase the long-standing stigma of drug addiction. Opioid addiction is a brain disease, and an equal opportunity one at that. It impacts all socioeconomic statuses,all races, all ages, and all communities. This modern-day killer is taking at least 175 Americans every day. 175! If not yet, all too soon each and every one of us will have a loved one struggle with addiction or die from it. We must understand that addiction is not about bad people becoming good, but it is about sick people becoming well. We must accept the new face of opioid/heroin addiction. It's not a stranger in another neighborhood or a homeless, unclean junky in a dirty back alley. NO! The face is in the mirror - one of us! The face is a grandparent, a business partner, a mom, a college student, a health care provider, a neighbor, a friend, an athlete. The face of addiction is a sweet, beautiful girl who loved to play soccer.