Skip to main content

Opioids, the pain-killing drugs that have become a nation-wide killer

Unlike the crack cocaine scourge of 30 years ago, these started as a prescription medicine

Opioids, the pain-killing drugs that have become a nation-wide killer

Opioids — drugs like oxycodone, heroin and fentanyl — killed thousands of people in 2014 and 2015. The nationwide addiction problem was a major point of agreement for both candidates, and played a major role in a bipartisan bill signed by President Barack Obama before he left office. These drugs are being blamed for a skyrocketing number of overdose deaths in recent years, including a quadrupling of deaths from heroin since 2010.

Opioid is the broad name for drugs that block pain signals from reaching the brain by binding to opioid receptors in the body. Available only by prescription, they are used to reduce moderate to severe pain. They can also be highly addictive when abused.

Why did they become a national epidemic?

Introduced Legally

Unlike the crack cocaine that led to another epidemic 30 years ago, opioid overuse first became an epidemic through legal means. Doctors began to prescribe the drugs to increasing numbers of patients to reduce pain. Over 300 million prescriptions, equaling a $24 billion industry, were issued in 2015 in the U.S. alone, one expert told CNBC, nearly equaling the U.S. population. About 80 percent of those who use opioids worldwide live in the United States.

A recent survey of opioid addicts and their family members from the Kaiser Foundation found 98 percent claim to use the drugs to control pain. However, about one-third admit that they take the powerful drugs to get high.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health, the factors likely to have contributed to the problem include:

This article continues at [Stream.org] The Opioid Crisis: Why It’s Getting Worse

Back to top