The Opioid Epidemic

The opioid epidemic is widespread and by this point, everyone knows that. But I feel I should approach from a different angle. Because you see things differently when you are directly affected by this.


You may recall that I briefly mentioned the opioid epidemic before.


Opioids are a class of drugs including prescription pain meds and heroin. They work by interacting on the opioid receptors on nerve cells in the body and brain. They are generally safe when taken for a short time, but prolonged use can lead to dependence.


But luckily, there are medications that can help an individual with dependence issues.


The Opioid Epidemic – Background


During the late 90’s doctors begin to prescribe opioids with a higher frequency. This was based on reassurances from drug companies that people would not become addicted. However, people then begin to become addicted and the number of overdose cases increased.


I don’t entirely blame the drug companies, mainly because the medical community should have been skeptical about these claims.


The Opioid Epidemic – National Stats


More than 2 million Americans have a substance abuse issue with prescription pain medication and 600,000 had a disorder involving heroin. In 2015 there were 20,101 people who died from an accidental overdose of prescription pain meds and about 13,000 overdose deaths from heroin. Currently, more than 90 Americans die every day from an overdose of prescription pain meds.


  • 21 to 29 percent of patients that prescribed opioids misuse them
  • 8 to 12 percent develop an addiction
  • 4 to 6 percent of those that get addicted to opioids transition to heroin
  • 80 percent of those addicted to heroin started out on prescription opioids


The Opioid Epidemic – Arkansas


Currently, 66 out of 75 counties in Arkansas prescribe opioids at a higher rate than the national average. The state prescription rate is 114.6 out of 100, which is second in the nation. Roughly 239.5 million pills were sold in Arkansas in 2016.


In 2011 and 2012 the state set up a prescription monitoring program (PMP). This allows the state and healthcare professionals to track the prescribing and dispensing of controlled prescription meds. These laws and updates are aimed to limit access to these prescriptions due to forgery, fraud, and deceit due to doctor shopping. This obviously has had limited success.


When Arkansas voters approved medical marijuana I believe it was in part due to the opioid epidemic in the state. I have to believe it was in response the opioid problem in the state. I have zero ideas if it will help, but it’s clear to anyone with more than two neurons firing in their head the current solution is not working.


Only a 10 day supply of opioids can be prescribed and you must get a new prescription every time, no refills are allowed. Last time I got a prescription I had to take my ID to the clinic and sign a form saying I was picking up the prescription. That is before even taking it to the pharmacy, showing my ID again and having the PMP check.


The Opioid Epidemic – viewpoint from a patient


I have always had a hard time asking for pain meds, mainly for fear of being seen as a drug seeker. However, after numerous cycles of chemotherapy, it was apparent that I could not function without pain medicine. The problem with over the counter medicine is that they contain a fever reducer. Fever is a symptom of infection, and doctors need to know if I could have an infection.


Currently, I am taking 5mg oxycodone, which is the lowest dose available. I usually take one a day while I am trying to get back in shape. I am such an idiot I have even been going back to the gym.


Based on my family history of addiction, getting addicted to anything worries me. This makes being in the situation of always hurting and only being able to take opioids something that is “less than ideal”. I do have a great medical team watching out for me, so that provides me some comfort.


The Opioid Epidemic – conclusion


Sadly, I don’t see an end in sight for this and I’m not sure more prohibition would help. It obviously did more harm than good with alcohol, but regardless it is a problem that affects us all.

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