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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a new report stating heroin overdoses stand at an all time high. What’s responsible for this statistic? The answer won’t be found in a dark alley but in a doctor’s office.
Deaths from heroin overdose in the United States have quadrupled over the past decade. In some areas of the country, the problem is even worse. In West Virginia, for example, heroin deaths have tripled over the past 5 years. Rehab centers in the state are “exhausted and overwhelmed.” These dismal statistics correlate suspiciously with a slightly smaller rate of prescription painkiller deaths. Coincidence? No way. The reasons for this uptick-downtick may seem complex, but it reality, the explanation is all too obvious.
Opiate-based painkillers have bred an alarming number of painkiller addicts. These pills, while legal, function as a gateway drug to the harder, more illegal drugs of the same origin. Studies show that roughly 1 in 15 opiate-based painkiller users will progress to trying heroin within a decade. Sometimes this switch arises out of curiosity, but other times, a user will up the ante out of seeming necessity.
Heroin itself may swing in and out of vogue throughout history, but the red tape associated with acquiring prescription painkillers often sends addicts looking for an easier high. Whereas a doctor must approve dosage and frequency, a street-based drug dealer will provide as much heroin as one is willing to buy. Some legal painkillers are even stronger than morphine, and the addiction is all too real. If or when a doctor or insurance company steps in front of an addict, they’ll do all they can to stop the pain or reach the same high as pills would provide.
The problem is further muddled by the difficulty of physicians in assessing a patient’s pain level. The simplicity of the 1-10 pain scale is subject to both subjectivity and truth telling on behalf of the patient. Both doctors and patients must be conscious of the risk involved with opiate-based painkillers, but it’s nearly impossible to remain levelheaded when one simply wants pain to go away.
One thing is certain: the situation is dire. As Live Science reports, “The scope of the problem is vast — opioid overdose is now the second-leading cause of accidental death in the United States, and the prevalence is second only to marijuana.” The issue stretches throughout the economic strata and doesn’t discriminate based on gender or race. Rehab centers are stretched to the max, and the problem isn’t going away anytime soon. With awareness comes healing, but symptoms are currently masked by painkillers themselves.