Everything you should know about the opioid epidemic

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The opioid epidemic is presenting huge challenges to communities, lawmakers, and addiction treatment centers across the country. Here’s what you should know about this epidemic and what’s being done to fight it.

The Real Impact of the Opioid Epidemic

47,600 people died from opioid overdoses in 2017, more than half of all overdose deaths in the United States. In 2019, The National Safety Council found that the odds of an American dying from an opioid overdose are now greater than dying in a car crash.

But more than 2 million people experience substance use disorders related to opioids like heroin or prescription pain relievers. Both of these numbers are expected to grow, despite efforts to stop deaths and addiction.

In addition to deaths, opioid addiction raises the risk of other health problems, homelessness, unemployment and incarceration. Treating this epidemic costs the United States billions of dollars every year.

How Opioids Work

Opioids, which come from poppies, were first used to relieve pain and are often used in the form of morphine, oxycodone or hydrocodone, all of which are legal prescription medicines. They work by binding to pain receptors in the brain and blocking pain signals. Heroin is an illegal form of opioids.

But in addition to blocking pain signals, they can cause the release of dopamine, a hormone that causes a high. They also change pathways in the brain, leading to substance use disorder. Over time, people who experience chronic pain develop tolerance of opioids, meaning they need higher and higher doses to experience relief. People who take opioids for a high will also need to take more and more to experience a high.

If people try to stop taking opioids, they may experience withdrawal symptoms like severe nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, pain, anxiety, and fast heart rate.

How the Epidemic Got Started

Opioid misuse is an old problem in the United States. After the Civil War, many soldiers who received morphine for injuries became dependent on the drug. Though heroin was produced by drug makers like Bayer, it was then outlawed in 1924 when its addictive qualities became evident.

However, other opioids like morphine or fentanyl became regulated in the 1970s and were commonly used as safe an legal pain control in the 1980s. In the mid-1990s, OxyContin and other opioids were created and heavily marketed as a “safe” pain pill by manufacturers. In 2007, PurduePharma, created of OxyContin, was ordered to pay millions of dollars in damages for misleading marketing of these drugs.

However, the damage was done. Over the years, as more prescriptions were written, the number of people abusing opioids rises quickly. The number of prescriptions written peaked in 2011, with more than 240 billion milligrams of morphine prescribed. Unfortunately, unethical healthcare providers were also using opioids to make money off of addiction. Patients who had been addicted to prescription pain killers also switch to heroin frequently because they are cheaper. These people are 40 more times more likely than people who have not used prescription pain relievers to become addicted to heroin.

Because of prescription marketing and other factors, the opioid epidemic is a greater challenge in the United States than in other countries. Americans are responsible for about 99.7 percent of the world’s hydrocodone consumption, according to the The International Narcotics Control Board.

How Americans Are Fighting the Opioid Epidemic
Communities, health professionals, and lawmakers are all working to find ways to slow and stop the opioid epidemic.

Government Action

In 2016, Congress passed The 21st Century Cures Act to allocate $1 billion in 2 years to states to expand treatment and prevention programs. In the same year, the CDC released guidelines to physicians on pain management without opioids and when to prescribe opioids to patients.

In 2018, the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act was signed into law, offering multiple avenues to fight the opioid epidemic. It aims to expand treatment for substance use disorders, research other pain management techniques and research new drugs. Many state governments are also passing regulations on how opioids are distributed.

Community Action

Communities across the country are expanding the availability of naloxone, an injection or nasal spray that can be used to save lives in an overdose situation. The US Surgeon general recommends in an advisory that Americans carry this drug and understand how to use it to save lives.


More than 600 communities and states are also taking the fight to the courts, suing drug manufacturers for the marketing practices related to opioids, including misleading advertising and bribing healthcare providers. The Prescription Interdiction & Litigation (PIL) Task Force, created by the Attorney General, supports these local jurisdictions in these lawsuits. The targets of these lawsuits include PurduePharma, Insys Therapeutics, Teva Pharmaceuticals, and many other companies.

Already, many of these lawsuits have resulted in guilty verdicts and multimillion dollar settlements. A new trial against Johnson & Johnson has also begun in Oklahoma. Depending on its outcome, it may help determine how states can hold drug companies accountable for the opioid epidemic.

Addiction Treatment Providers

Addiction treatment providers are facing their own challenges in fighting the epidemic, including lower reimbursement rates for treatment, dual diagnoses in many patients, and a rising demand for medication-assisted treatment.

Medication-assisted treatment uses synthetic opioids, such as methadone, to prevent symptoms of withdrawal without causing a high. These medicines are distributed in a safe environment, helping cut down on abuse and dangerous practices.

At Harmony Place, we fight the opioid epidemic by helping individuals achieve long-term sobriety and freedom from substance use disorder. We offer comprehensive care, including medication-assisted treatment, complementary therapies, psychotherapy and more. We work with you, your healthcare providers, and your insurance company to ensure you receive the care you need for a healthier life.

At Harmony Place in Woodland Hills, California, we provide a relaxing, comfortable environment for addiction treatment and recovery with many addiction treatment program options, including our Medication Assisted Treatment program. Contact us today at 1-(888)-789-4330 to learn more about our services and how you or your loved one can prepare for a successful rehabilitation from drug and alcohol addiction at our California treatment center.