The United States has a big problem when it comes to prescription painkillers and other opioids. More and more people are taking drugs like Oxycontin or Vicodin to help them deal with pain after something like surgery or a major injury.
Those drugs have a legitimate medical use, but they can also lead to dependency. Opioids block feelings of pain and also make users feel a sense of pleasure that can get addictive in a hurry. Heroin is also classified as an opioid, but no doctors are out there prescribing heroin to their patients. But there are millions of opioid prescriptions written every year.
Drug overdoses claim thousands of lives annually, and we’re at the point where a majority of those overdoses are connected to opioids. Whether it’s fentanyl, Vicodin, or heroin, opioids can mess up your life or even end it before you even realize what’s happening.
How the country is responding
America does not always have the best track record when it comes to recognizing public health emergencies. In some circles, there’s still anger at government officials from the ‘80s for their response (or lack thereof) to the escalating AIDS crisis. We may be able to name what’s happening, but we also have to take active measures to respond to the crisis.
In late 2017, the Trump administration declared the opioid epidemic to be a public health emergency. That’s a good first step, but many advocates think more needs to be done on a federal level. On the state level, some states have created task forces designed to address addiction issues, and states like Alaska, Florida, and Massachusetts have also declared the problem to be a public health emergency.
The rate of deaths attributed to accidental overdoses is alarming everywhere, but some places have felt the effects more than others. Data from the Centers for Disease Control reveals that West Virginia has the highest rate of drug overdose deaths in 2016, followed by Ohio and New Hampshire. According to the CDC, the rate of opioid overdose deaths has increased fivefold since 1999.
What individuals can do
If you’re worried about becoming addicted, the best thing you can do is educate yourself and talk to your doctor. Opioids do have a place in society. They can be extremely helpful for people dealing with acute pain, but the key is to stop using the drugs as soon as you’re able to do so safely. Health care providers may be overprescribing this particular class of painkillers, as the rate of painkiller prescriptions has increased right along with the rate of overdoses.
If your doctor suggests opioids and you aren’t comfortable with that, it’s more than OK to speak up. Say you’ve read a lot about them and would prefer to take something else to deal with the pain. A good doctor will listen to your concerns and try to figure out an alternative path.
Some people sing the praises of “natural” remedies like curamin or curamin extra strength, but that’s not something you should start taking without first doing research and speaking with a medical professional. You need to find something that is strong enough to relieve your pain without making you at risk for addiction.