America has an opioid overdose epidemic. Opioid overdose now claims 91 American lives each day, and more than 1,000 people visit emergency rooms daily due to the misuse of opioid drugs. In August 2017, President Trump declared a National State of Emergency regarding opioid abuse.
Opioids are drugs that act on the nervous system to reduce pain, including legal prescription drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and morphine, as well as the illegal drug heroin. While legal opioids are safe when used properly under doctor’s orders, they can be harmful if misused. Overdose happens by depressing the body’s respiratory system, and breathing stops.
Opioid addiction does not discriminate: It can happen to people of all races, all incomes, both male and female. However, addiction can have unique consequences for women, especially expectant mothers whose babies may suffer from withdrawal.
Many factors have contributed to the recent surge in opioid addiction: Advocacy groups pressured health providers to be more aggressive in treating pain. Government policies fostered incentives for prescribing pain medications. Insurance plans, including Medicaid and Medicare, often covered opioids but not other pain-management treatments. And other economic factors—like joblessness—led to spikes in drug addiction as well.
However, we may be beginning to turn the tide in the fight against opioid abuse. Education—for policymakers, doctors and patients—is the first step. Positive policy changes can help empower health providers by relieving the pressure to prescribe drugs in response to pain.