>> The Opioid crisis in North America

The Opioid crisis in North America

On June 27, 2019, Tags Medicine

Opioids are the most commonly prescribed medications to manage chronic pain. They work by lowering pain signals the body sends to the brain, they also alter how the brain would react to pain. Opioids are generally safe when they are used correctly.  However, people can become dependent to opioids and may experience withdrawal symptoms when trying to stop taking them. The longer the individual is exposed to the opioid, it can cause tolerance. Tolerance is defined clinically as the need to increase a dose to maintain the analgesic effects. This can explain the reasoning behind overdosing on opioids. Misuse of opioids can include prescription pain relievers or Illicit drugs such as heroin.

The opioid crisis refers to the misuse of opioids which results in a negative impact on public health as well as social and economic welfare. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention have estimated that prescription opioid misuse alone costs United states $78.5 billion a year to address costs of healthcare, addiction treatment and loss of productivity. The biggest crisis is the health consequences of opioid misuse. The National Safety Council discovered that in the United states there is a greater chance of dying from an opioid overdose compared to dying in a vehicle crash. This demonstrates the severity of the opioid crisis; every day in the United states more than 130 people die from an overdose on opioids.

There is a strong link between prescription misuse and heroin use. People who become dependent on prescription opioids may later switch to heroin due to reduced costs of this drug. In 2016, the National institute on drug abuse (NIH) estimated that nearly half of young people who consistently injected heroin resulted in using heroin as a means after the misuse of painkillers.

So how did this happen? there is a debate over who is to blame for the opioid crisis ranging from pharmaceutical companies to doctors to billionaire family companies such as the Sackler’s who are facing more than 1,000 lawsuits due to be accused for downplaying the risks of prescription opioids in order to obtain profits.

Opioid misuse does not only affect mortality rates, it also increases the risk of infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C. If a pregnant woman was to misuse opioids there is the risk that the substance taken can pass through the placenta and be absorbed into the baby. When the umbilical cord is cut, the baby could experience physical withdrawal symptoms known as Neonatal Abstinence syndrome (NAS). Unfortunately, NAS is considerably common in the United states, every 15 minutes a baby is born suffering from opioid withdrawal. This demonstrates that not only is the opioid crisis affecting the adult population but even innocent new-born babies.

There are currently attempts to tackle the opioid crisis. HHS and NIS have set priorities in preventing opioid misuse, treating opioid use disorders and managing pain.  They are aiming to improve access to treatment as well as recovery services and advancing better practice for pain management.

This article illustrates the burden of the opioid crisis in North America. We are aware that prescription opioids considerably contribute to the cause of opioid misuse. It is reassuring to know that organisations are trying to tackle this issue and companies which are providing addictive drugs are getting sued so there is a chance that the opioid crisis can be tackled, and this article demonstrates the importance for the opioid crisis to be tackled.


Talwinder Kaur

Epidemiology Analyst


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