Many Americans have experienced the heartache of having a friend or family member struggle with addiction. With the current opioid epidemic, the reality of the damages caused by addiction is all too real in the U.S. The harm caused by addiction is not limited to the drug abuser. It so often leaves a trail of ruined lives and relationships. Americans should turn their attention to the crisis currently devastating millions in the U.S.
The New England Journal of Medicine notes that about two million people in the U.S. are suffering from a prescription opioid addiction, and more than twelve million Americans abused these medications within the past two years. Abuse of heroin, derived from opium poppy seeds, has also significantly increased in recent years. As a result of abusing these drugs, the rate of prescription and illicit opiate overdoses has quadrupled since the year 2000. In West Virginia alone, named the epicenter of the opioid epidemic, nearly one thousand individuals died from a drug overdose last year, a double-digit increase since 2014, according to West Virginia Public Broadcasting.
Why exactly are opiates particularly addicting? One of the most significant reasons is that the central nervous system contains opioid receptors and endogenous opioids for pain regulation. As found by the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology, the highly addictive and therapeutic effects of opiates are the result of stimulation of mu-receptors, one of three types of opium receptors in the nervous system. Habitual use of exogenous opioids stimulates mu-receptors and ultimately leads to intense feelings of reward, physical dependence, and addiction. These side effects completely alter the personality of the drug abuser and have sadly contributed to occurrences of broken homes and destruction in the lives of many families.
The effects of opium addiction go well beyond the addiction itself. According to findings released last Thursday by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), diagnoses of Hepatitis C have more than doubled since 2010. And researchers at the CDC believe the number of those with the disease is actually much higher because the condition often goes undetected for years before diagnosis. Doctors believe the recent Hepatitis C outbreak is a direct result of the opioid epidemic since the disease is spread through sharing infected needles or bodily fluids.
Newborn babies are also at risk of contracting Hepatitis C, as the rate of maternal Hepatitis C has approximately doubled in recent years. It is likely that many expectant mothers contracted the disease from their partners through bodily fluids. The current Hepatitis C outbreak is a perfect example of how damage from the opioid epidemic is not limited to the drug abuser. Action must be taken by Americans to resolve this devastating crisis.
What can be done to end the epidemic? Doctors have been searching for more efficient ways to treat those experiencing chronic pain to prevent patients from coming into contact with opiates. For example, many doctors are prescribing pain medications that do not contain opioids. Also, many suggest natural treatment methods, such as acupuncture that works on endogenous, non-addictive opiates.
Pharmacologists have also been working to reduce the number of deaths from overdose by developing the drug naloxone, which works against the effects of opiates, according to National Public Radio. Many security guards and police officers are carrying naloxone on duty to revive those in need, and have since saved scores of lives in the short time the drug has been in use. Opioid addiction is also exceptionally difficult to break. Those struggling with addiction require medical treatment and support, as it is nearly impossible to break the habit alone. With the great work done by doctors and law enforcement to aid the healing of individuals struggling with addiction, citizens must also offer emotional support to those in need, a field in which Americans are typically highly skilled. Together, we can bring an end to the opium epidemic, and create a brighter future for our nation.