The volume of prescribed opioids in the United States has quadrupled since 1999. The problem has become so severe that in 2015 more people died from an overdose than car crashes and gun deaths combined. The year saw approximately 52,000 overdose deaths – 142 each day, with 91 of them being caused by opioids.
How and when did it all start?
In the 1990s, doctors became more and more aware of the pain some of their patients were dealing with, whether we’re talking about an injury, post operative care, or mental illness. Pharmaceutical companies saw an opportunity and began pushing doctors to prescribe opioids, without informing them about safety and efficacy issues. Soon, America became the world leader in opioid prescriptions.
How Has the US Government Responded to the Problem?
Rates of addiction throughout the country skyrocketed between 1999 and 2010 when prescription painkiller sales went through the roof. Following tens of thousands of fatal overdoses, the authorities began to shut down manufacturers gradually and to warn all health professionals about the dangers of opioids. Unfortunately, that didn’t work. Heroin and a new product called fentanyl emerged, taking the place of prescribed opioids.
In 2015, a famous case between the state of Kentucky and Purdue Pharma took place, with the former accusing the latter of misleading doctors and patients about their product and leading to an addiction epidemic in the state. It was December 1995, when the Food and Drug Administration approved OxyContin. In 1996, the drug hit the market and made $45 million in sales just in its first year. Ten years later, the numbers grew to $3.1 billion, and OxyContin accounted for about a third of the painkiller market, competing with names such as Vicodin, Percocet, and Fentanyl.
But that was not the company’s first lawsuit. In 2007, United States of America v. The Purdue Frederick Company, Inc. took place. Purdue Pharma then pleaded guilty to charges of misleading doctors and patients about addictive the properties of their product, paying $600 million in fines.
What Has the Trump Administration Done to Combat the Issue?
In October 2017, a presidential statement was finally released in response to the opioid issue the United States has been facing. President Donald Trump declared a public health emergency over the opioid epidemic, and a 90-day public health emergency through the Public Health Service Act, prioritizing the opioid crisis.
The declaration is short, simply stating the problem and exposing it, but did not discuss the necessary steps the nation would take to solve it. However, senior administration officials say that the president’s order will enable some changes and speed up the pace of things:
- HIV federal funds could be shared with opioid addiction as there is a connection between the two medical issues– the virus can spread through needles users share, increasing the risk of HIV epidemics.
- National Dislocated Worker Grants could be available not only to disaster victims but also people dealing with opioid addiction.
- Patients could use telemedicine to get the medication-assisted treatment they need. That could be a huge step since most rural areas often have a difficult time finding a physician who can prescribe it.
Unfortunately, the opioid crisis will need a detailed plan to be solved, and also a bigger budget. The economic burden of opioid overdose, abuse and dependence is more than significant. Studies show that, in 2013 alone, the crisis cost the country over $78.5 billion.
What Steps Have Been Made to Help or Prevent the Problem?
In November 2017, Donald Trump’s opioid commission revealed 56 recommendations for dealing with the country’s drug abuse crisis. However, they didn’t expand on how these measures will be implemented, and they didn’t mention anything about new investments. Here are a few of some of these recommendations:
- A streamlined federal funding process for drug addiction
- Removing the barriers standing in the way of treatment
- Creating drug courts
- Increasing training for opioid prescribers
- Removing pain scores from doctors’ evaluations
- Deploying naloxone
- Increasing prison sentences for fentanyl
- Creating a media campaign
Opioids could potentially kill more than half a million people in the country over the next ten years if no measures are taken to deal with the accelerated use and overdose crisis. Highest death rates are found in West Virginia, New Hampshire, Kentucky, and Ohio, but the epidemic is now quickly spreading nationwide, creating generations of addicts and leading to almost 100 fatal overdoses a day.