There are so many threats in the world today that cause concern for America — North Korea, Syria, Iran, to name a few. But the fact is, those are all outside our borders. There’s an even bigger threat that exists within our own borders, worse, in our own homes. It is a threat that grows larger every day and endangers both ourselves and our children.
That threat is opioid painkillers and heroin.
Not a New Threat
We’ve been hearing about how many people were dying from overdoses for years. We’ve heard about all the people who started but couldn’t quit. We were told that the use of opioid painkillers had become an “epidemic.” Frankly, if we had known how serious the problem would become later on, we might have used words more like “rash” or “outbreak” back then. Because it’s nothing compared to this. What we’re experiencing now IS a full-blown epidemic.
With each and every passing day, opioids are killing more of our children, parents, brothers, sisters, cousins, and friends. There are very few people these days who have not been touched in some way by the opioid epidemic. Of those addicts we have known, some have died. If they haven’t yet, they probably will, as addicts only have about a 10 percent chance of kicking it for good. The ones who do kick it will forever be scarred by their time with addiction.
A True Epidemic
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, who have both defined this problem an “epidemic,’ for the first time in America, there are more drug overdoses than there are car crashes. For example, in 2013, 35,369 people died in car crashes, while 46,471 died from drug overdoses.
The number of opioid overdoses in 2015 was 33,091, which was FOUR TIMES the amount of opioid overdoses in 1999. This is more than any other year on record. We have nearly reached the level of a national emergency. But for some reason, it’s really not receiving the attention it deserves. Why?
Part of the reason could be that this epidemic, oddly enough, is not a phenomenon contained to the left and right coasts. It has become a rural problem as well. In fact, the state that fills more prescriptions per capita than any state other than Kentucky is West Virginia.
Judging by the sheer numbers of people becoming addicted to opioids, state and federal governments are beginning to see that this will be a national emergency if they don’t try to address the problem both on a state and federal level. Thankfully, we now have a President who has promised to do just that.
Obstacles to Eliminating the Epidemic
In the mid-1990s, there was a movement going on in medicine that said that doctors were not adequately treating their patients’ pain. Some said motivation behind this movement was big-money pharmaceuticals. But it shone the spotlight on patient pain in a way that it never had before.
The next change to occur in the 1990s was the introduction of a “revolutionary” pain medication that was — for the first time — supposed to offer a long-lasting opiate relief. That medication was Oxycontin. This drug would create a fundamental shift in the world of pharmaceuticals because it was one of the first time-released, long-acting opiate painkillers that could be “hacked.”
Finding Opioids on the “Deep Web”
In the early 2000s came the internet as a big player in the world of illicit drugs. Users could access the “deep web” or “dark web,” which is basically part of the internet that cannot be indexed by regular search engines; hence, they’re not easy to get to unless you know what you’re doing. This makes it a great place for nefarious activities where one could pay a visit “anonymously” to order-up some heroin, meth, or crack. Then all you have to do is pay with it using your anonymous bitcoin and have it mailed to your address. It may even be easier than getting your prescription filled at Walgreens.
We also must remember that the age of the internet has also brought the biotech arena. In these days of “Breaking Bad,” amateur chemists just have to change a molecule or two to create a great high that’s not “technically” illegal (yet). They are adding and mixing and combining all sorts of things. The product is considered good if it doesn’t kill the first taker.
A combination that has become the most popular AND the most lethal is combining heroin with the prescription opioid Fentanyl, the strongest opioid painkiller on the market today. Well, the strongest for humans anyway. Not for elephants. Some have even tried the elephant variety — but did not live to tell about it.
The biggest challenge to reigning in the opioid epidemic starts with keeping it out of the hands of addicts. But getting rid of it won’t make a difference unless we are committed to helping the addicts deal with what it is that makes them an addict in the first place. What is the pain from which they need relief? Anyone who has ever watched an episode of “Intervention” knows how challenging it is for an addict to get clean permanently. Until communities are committed to helping addicts get better instead of just wanting them out of sight, the end of the opioid epidemic isn’t coming any time soon.