Understanding The Opioid Crisis

Opioid overdose has recently become the number one cause of fatal occurrences in the United States due to the steady rise over the past decade of abuse. Doctors everywhere were being told by the pharmaceutical companies that their patients would not become addicted to opioid pain relievers, giving a false sense of trust in these drugs.

Many people have misused and abused opioids by prolonging taking the medications after their surgery and/or trauma they endured. When someone continues to use the opioids past a doctor’s prescription, or if the opioids are over-prescribed by doctors, people are at a higher risk of addiction.

The Opioid Crisis is said to have been caused by the over-prescribing of these painkillers in the 1990s, which caused the first wave of the opioid crisis. This has led the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to develop a guideline for prescribing opioids for chronic pain.

The Opioid Crisis Timeline

Between 1991 and 2011, painkiller medication prescriptions in the United States tripled from 76 million to 219 million per year. In 2010, the second wave of the opioid crisis hit when there was an increased overdose death rate due to heroin. Following that in 2013, there was another uprise of these drugs from an increase of synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, creating an increase in overdose-related deaths.

In 2016 opioid overdoses contributed to more than 42,000 deaths which were more than any other previous year on record; the death rate has been going up each year since. About 40% of opioid overdoses are a result of prescription opioids. In 2017 the United States Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency regarding opioid-related issues. In 2019, a total of 70,630 drug overdose-related deaths occurred with 49,860 of them being opioids. The total number of people who have reportedly died from an overdose involving any type of opioid is approximately 564,000 between the years 1999 and 2020.

Now that opioid use disorder has become an epidemic, efforts are being made to reduce the issue. All forms of government, local, state, and federal, are vamping up to try and help reduce these high death rates by educating people to try to prevent these deaths.

CDC Numbers Representing the Opioid Crisis

  • The number of opioid-related drug overdose deaths increased by nearly 30% between 2019 and 2020. Since 1999, it has increased nearly four times
  • In 2020, there were 91,799 drug overdose deaths and about 75% of those were from an opioid

From 2019 to 2020, the following numbers are being reported:

  • Opioid-involved death rates increased by about 38%
  • Opioid prescription-related deaths increased by 17%
  • Heroin death rates had decreased by about 7%
  • Opioid synthetic drug-related deaths increased by 56%

Trends for Improving the Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder

  • Medication is now being prescribed to help with the treatment of opioid use disorder. The United States Food and Drug Administration has approved the following drugs:
    • Methadone
    • Buprenorphine
    • Naltrexone
  • Addiction medicine specialty has now been formalized in the medical society. As more doctors become board certified, it has increased the research on the medicines that can help with opioid use disorder
  • Expanding the availability of medications for opioid use disorder has allowed not only physicians, but nurse practitioners, medical assistants, and other advanced practice clinicians, to be able to prescribe medication for people with opioid use disorder. They can now request approval to treat up to 275 patients per year after they have completed their first year of prescribing these medications to 100 patients, according to the original approved number of patients
  • Medication for opioid use disorder is now being allowed in prisons to help those who have opioid use disorder; it is being recognized as a medically necessary service for these prisoners. It has been stated that 30-45% of incarcerated persons suffer from opioid dependence.
  • Harm Reduction, which entails needle exchange programs, has become more widely used. This helps people who use needles obtain sterile needles in exchange for the used and dirty syringes.
  • The drug Naloxone, which is known as Narcan, has now been made available to everyone, not just the medical community. This is another trend in the fight for improving the opioid crisis. Narcan helps people who have “overdosed”, come out of this extremely dangerous state and can save people’s lives on a daily basis.
  • People struggling with opioid use disorder are turning more to the telehealth community to find doctors that can help them with their struggle. The doctors can complete a virtual medical evaluation and are allowed to prescribe buprenorphine treatment to those who are found to be needing help in this area.

What is the CDC working on to Help With the Opioid Crisis?

The Center for Disease Control is working on the following to help try to combat the opioid crisis:

  • Keeping an eye on trends to see how they can better understand the crisis
  • They are advancing research to collect and analyze data on opioid-related overdoses to help them understand the data better so they can better understand how they can provide assistance where it is needed
  • Supporting the healthcare communities by providing data, resources, and tools to help them fight the battle
  • They are partnering with public safety officials and community organizations, including law enforcement, to battle the ever-growing opioid drug problem.
  • Increasing public awareness to make the public aware of the misuse of opioids and the overdoses that they can cause. It informs the public how they can safely take prescribed opioids