This alarming epidemic requires everyone’s help to counteract
The opioid crisis has been national news for the past several
years, affecting thousands of people throughout the country, with seemingly no
end in sight. It involves an increase in opioid addiction and overdose caused
by misuse of opioids, such as prescription pain relievers, heroin, and
synthetic opioids like fentanyl.
Opioids trigger the release of endorphins, the “feel good”
neurotransmitter, which numb your perception of pain and boost feelings of
pleasure. When the drug wears off, you can have a desire to experience those
good feelings again. Continuous use of this drug can lead to dependency and,
While the epidemic has peaked within the past five years, it has
been gaining momentum since the late 1990s. This was a time when prominent
pharmaceutical companies reassured members of the medical community that
patients wouldn’t become addicted to prescription opioid pain relievers,
resulting in widespread misuse of these medications by physicians before it
became clear they were highly addictive.
The statistics showing the prominence of opioid misuse and
overdose warrant immediate attention from consumers and legislators. According
to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 130 people
in the U.S. die every day after overdosing on opioids.
From 1999-2017, more than 700,000 people died from drug overdoses.
That is more than 10 times the number of people who died in the Vietnam War.
Opioids are often prescribed for chronic pain; however, roughly
25 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them.
Approximately five percent of people who abuse prescription opioids will
transition to heroin.
The most common states of the country experiencing this opioid
crisis are in the Midwest—including Ohio, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.
The CDC says the economic burden of this crisis is $78.5 billion
a year, including costs of healthcare, loss in productivity, addiction
treatment, and criminal justice involvement.
The significant magnitude of this national crisis is quite
apparent. Here, we will identify and examine current approaches to correct the
opioid crisis and what you can do in your community to combat the opioid
What government is doing
With all of these startling statistics, what is being done about
it? Several government agencies are brainstorming new ideas and programs to
counteract this growing crisis. For instance, the U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services (HHS) has several approaches including:
- Developing treatment
programs that optimize the use of opioid treatment medications such as Buprenorphine,
Naltrexone, Clonidine and Methadone.
- Continuing to research
the use of cannabis as a new tool in the treatment of opioid addiction. Cannabis
and opioid systems in humans interact very closely. Perhaps this will open a
door for the development and utilization of cannabis-related medicines to treat
opiate addiction. Although promising, much more research needs to be done.
Cannabis will not be the solution, but it may be a significant component in the
war against the Opioid Crisis.
- Improving access to
treatment and recovery services.
- Promoting the use and
widespread availability of overdose-reversing drugs such as naltrexone (Narcan).
understanding of the epidemic through more public health surveillance data.
- Providing up-to-date
research on pain and addiction.
- Advancing better
practices for pain management by healthcare professionals.
The National Institute of Health (NIH), a research branch of
HHS, echoes these initiatives by conducting research for new non-addictive
strategies to manage chronic pain, as well as meeting with pharmaceutical companies
and healthcare professionals to prevent the snowball effect of opioid misuse.
The CDC plans to take it one step further
by partnering with public safety, such as law enforcement, to address the
growing illicit opioid problem. Officials are also considering attacking the
source to reduce opioid availability. This includes targeting the opioid
manufacturers who produce much more medication than is actually needed.
Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of
Oxycontin, is currently involved with lawsuits from over 30 different state
attorneys general (including Minnesota’s) and over 1,500 personal liability
suits. We are just at the beginning of these legal challenges.
Also, legal minds have discussed the possibility of prosecuting
the large pharmaceutical distribution companies that make sure that the supply
is plentiful across the country by delivering opioids to every drug store in
the country at quantities that appear to be ridiculously high.
What local communities must do
An important question to ask is what you can do at a community
level. You must realize that anyone who takes opioids is at risk of developing
an addiction. The public must be made aware of this. An individual’s personal
history and the length of time opioids are used both play a role, but it is
impossible to predict who’s vulnerable to eventual dependence and abuse of
Another thing you can do for your family and community is become
aware of the signs of addiction, which include but not limited to:
- Irresistible craving
for a drug
- Compulsive use of the
- Continued use of the
drug despite repeated harmful consequences
If you are prescribed an opioid by your physician to manage
acute pain, such as after a surgery, opioids are safest when used for three or
fewer days. Try to avoid using opioids unless you absolutely have to for
recurrent chronic pain.
If you do need opioids, ask your doctor for the lowest possible
dose for the shortest time required, and use it exactly as prescribed. The key
is to have a discussion with your doctor on the proper pain management specific
You can help prevent addiction in your family and community by
disposing of unused opioids properly, specifically by contacting local law
enforcement or using the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) medication
discarding and take-back programs. If there are none in your area, contact your
pharmacist on how to properly discard the medication.
It is critical to realize that anybody who uses opioids, either
prescribed or illegal, are at risk of developing dependence and possible
addiction. Therefore, we must educate ourselves and our community of this
matter to combat this evolving crisis one neighborhood at a time.
E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board-certified dermatologist and Clinical
Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He also
has a private practice in Eagan, MN. He received his M.D. and Master’s Degree
in Molecular Biology and Genomics from the Mayo Clinic. He has been selected as
one of the top 10 dermatologists in the United States by Black Enterprise magazine.
Dr. Crutchfield was recognized by Minnesota Medicine as one of the 100
Most Influential Healthcare Leaders in Minnesota. He is the team dermatologist
for the Minnesota Twins, Vikings, Timberwolves, Wild and Lynx. Dr. Crutchfield
is an active member of both the American and National Medical Associations, and
president of the Minnesota Association of Black Physicians.
Alexis E. Carrington is a senior medical student
at St. George’s University School of Medicine and a graduate of
Pepperdine University. She is currently applying for a dermatology
residency and research fellowship.