Victims of the Opioid Disaster
As you probably know by now, we are in the middle of an opioid crisis. Experts have estimated that 10.3 million Americans ages 12 and older have abused opioids in the past year, including 9.9 million prescription pain relievers and 808,000 heroin users. In addition, the U.S. Department of Health has reported that more than 130 people died daily from opioid-related overdoses in 2016 and 2017.
Unfortunately, my friend's younger brother falls into these sobering statistics. He was a college football star and was a successful engineer in the twenties and early thirties. But over the years, his old soccer injuries tormented him again and again, leading to chronic pain that he dealt with every day. He turned to pain relievers for relief, but soon began to abuse them. It wasn't long before his addiction got so out of control that he was out of a job and would go away for days. The last time his family lost contact with him, they found him a week later after taking an overdose of heroin. Nobody – and I mean, nobody – ever thought that something like this could happen to someone like him.
But my friend's brother is no exception. Opioid addiction can happen to anyone, and many who end up taking drugs are not stereotypical addicts, which are often portrayed in the media. They can be doctors, mothers who stay at home, or even seniors. What makes opioids so addictive is that they bind to receptors in the brain and spinal cord, thereby disrupting pain signals. They also activate reward areas of the brain by releasing the hormone dopamine, creating the addictive feeling of euphoria or a “high”.
Fortunately, our country has opened its eyes to this real epidemic and taken action. In 2016, the 21st Century Cures Act was passed, granting $ 1 billion in opioid crisis grants to states to fund advanced treatment and prevention programs. The following year, the Department of Justice's Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Department was set up to prosecute people who commit opioid fraud related to healthcare. In 2018, President Trump signed an opioid law called SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act to support research into the search for new, non-addictive painkillers. The legislation also expanded access to treatment for substance use disorders for Medicaid patients. Eventually, a national opiate lawsuit was held, with drug companies such as Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceuticals and McKesson Corporation being held responsible for their role in the opiate crisis.