“Dr. Rose Speaks

There are all kinds of addicts, I guess.
We all have pain. And we all look for ways
to make the pain go away.”
Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of
a Part-Time Indian

What Led to the Opioid Epidemic?

According to Wikipedia “The opioid epidemic or opioid crisis is a term that generally refers to the rapid increase in the use of prescription and nonprescription opioid drugs in the United States, beginning in the late 1990s. The increase in opioid overdose deaths has been dramatic, and opioids were responsible for 47,600 of the 70,200 drug-overdose deaths overall in the US in 2017.”

Opioids, categorized as narcotics, are a type of drug that include strong prescription pain relievers, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, and tramadol. The illegal drug heroin is also an opioid. Some opioids are made from the opium plant, and others are synthetic (man-made).

A doctor may give you a prescription opioid to reduce pain after a major injury or surgery. You may get them if you have severe pain from health conditions like cancer. Some doctors prescribe them for chronic pain, sometimes without warning the patient of the drug’s side effects.

There are two major risks of using opioids: dependence and addiction. Dependence leads to withdrawal symptoms when not taking the drug. Addiction is a chronic brain disease that causes a person to compulsively seek out the drugs, despite their harmful effects. The dependence and addiction risk are higher for those who abuse the drug. Abuse can include taking too much of the prescribed medicine. In some cases, addiction will cause the person to take someone else’s medicine. Therefore, opioid abuse, addiction, and overdoses are serious public health problems in the United States.


The U.S. government analyzed this issue and was astonished at the devastating results:

  • From 2014 onwards, approximately 115 deaths are caused every year by opioid abuse.
  • Moreover, 80% of the population is suffering from addiction to prescribed painkillers.
  • The misuse of these medicines has led to a growing cost of $78.5 billion a year.

Anyone prescribed opioid painkillers has a high risk of becoming addicted to these substances and overusing them. These sedatives have such harmful side effects as hallucinations, confusion, memory loss, and respiratory depression, a reduced urge to breathe. Overuse can create a pattern like sighing when breathing, which is defined as deep breaths with long pauses between them.

Respiratory depression is one of the severe side effects of using opioids. Understanding how opioids cause respiratory depression can be an important part of preventing overdose deaths. When opioids are taken in high doses, or drugs are mixed with each other, the results can be deadly. The risk of respiratory depression increases with increased opioid consumption. The result can be respiratory failure. This is when a person starts to lose consciousness, goes into a coma, or stops breathing. When this happens, a person will start to turn blue; in many cases, this is why people die from opioid overdose. Also, when opioids cause respiratory depression, victims are so sedated that they can’t wake themselves up from oxygen deprivation. This can commonly happen when a person takes too many opioids, but also when they are paired with alcohol or sleeping pills. Another risk of opioids in terms of respiratory depression happens when someone with undiagnosed sleep apnea takes them.

Facts, Causes, and More Information about the Opioid Crisis

In the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies advised medical centers that individuals would not become addicted to opioid painkillers, and healthcare organizations started to advise patients to use them more frequently. This resulted in widespread usage—and consequently led to the misuse of these medicines, all before it became very clear that they are addictive.

Apart from being used for anesthesia, an opioid can be used medically to suppress both diarrhea and severe coughing. Interestingly, extremely concentrated opioids are used for veterinary purposes. Opium is also misused in nonmedical narcotic drugs because it has the same intoxication effects on moods and behaviors heroin has.

A national drug-management strategy was established by the White House to pinpoint and resolve the top issues related to the opioid crisis. According to Soelberg, Brown, Du Vivier, Meyer, and Ramachandran (2017), this was done because of the devastating effects of opioids. The side effects of these substances are itching, nausea, respiratory depression, memory loss, confusion, sexual dysfunction, hallucinations, and constipation.

Tolerance of opioid substances increases with continued use, which eventually results in a withdrawal syndrome when the consumption is stopped. However, the intoxication effect is tempting and addictive. Overuse of these drugs can result in death, but also increases the chances of infection due to their weakening effect on the immune system.

As stated by Dasgupta, Beletsky, and Ciccarone (2018), this drug can be smoked, injected, or taken as pills. Opium can come in many forms, solid or liquid, and is often a black or brown block of powder. Opium is found in the Mediterranean, but it can also be grown in other subtropical and tropical regions.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) states that individuals who use prescription opioids have a 40% chance of consuming heroin compared to a 2% chance among those who consume alcohol. It is often noted that people who are addicted to certain substances find it hard to stop using those substances.

Actions Taken

The U.S. Health and Social Service department has taken steps regarding this crisis focusing their efforts on (1) improving treatment services, (2) encouraging the use of reversing drugs, (3) increasing awareness about the situation, and (4) by upgrading the pain-management sector.

Moreover, the National Institutes of Health also discovered advanced techniques to prevent the misuse of these substances.

There are various procedures to overcome opioid addictions. The most essential of these is detoxification. In this process, doctors help remove traces of opium from the individual’s system, which increases energy levels and enhances metabolism. Manchikanti et al. (2012) said that patients frequently use personalized therapies, hypnotherapy, art therapy, and group therapies. In addition, people are admitted to various rehab centers that offer therapeutic and holistic approaches


Dasgupta, N., Beletsky, L., & Ciccarone, D. (2018). Opioid crisis: No easy fix to its social and economic determinants. American Journal of Public Health, 108(2), 182–186. doi:​10​.2105​/AJPH​.2017​.304187

Manchikanti, L., Helm, S., Fellows, B., Janata, J. W., Pampati, V., Girder, J. S., & Boswell, M. V. (2012). Opioid epidemic in the United States. Pain Physician, 15(3 Suppl), ES9–38.

Soelberg, C. D., Brown, R. E., Du Vivier, D., Meyer, J. E., & Ramachandran, B. K. (2017). The US opioid crisis: Current federal and state legal issues. Anesthesia & Analgesia, 125(5), 1675–1681. doi:​10​.1213​/ANE​.0000000000002403

Volkow, N. D., & Collins, F. S. (2017). The role of science in addressing the opioid crisis. New England Journal of Medicine, 377(4), 391–394. doi:​10​.1056​/NEJMsr1706626