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Why Has Prescription Drug Abuse Increased?

According to the CDC, 5 times more people died from prescription opioid overdoses than in 1999. Overall, over 200,000 people died as a result of prescription drug overdoses between 1999 and 2016. Methadone, Oxycodone (including OxyContin), and Hydrocodone (Vicodin) are the most common causes of prescription opioid overdoses resulting in death.

In 2015, more people died from drug overdoses than from car accidents or gun-related incidences. Prescription opioids accounted for more than 33% of these preventable deaths. The cost of the prescription drug epidemic doesn’t just affect the people suffering from addiction and their families; it affects all of society. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (a subdivision of the NIH), Americans spent more than $26 billion in health care directly related to prescription opioid abuse, and the epidemic cost more than $78.5 million in overall costs, including healthcare, crime, and lost work and wages.

Statistics, though, cannot translate the pain, tears, and heartbreak behind prescription drug abuse. The distant parents who spend all their time and money on doctor shopping. The sleepless nights for parents who are waiting anxiously to hear from a son or daughter caught in the grips of addiction. The estranged siblings who just can’t understand why their brother or sister won’t get help with their addiction. Statistics can’t explain the hurt and fear that the prescription drug epidemic has exacted on our communities and families. The harsh reality of the tragedies often leaves us feeling hopeless.

But there is hope. People are recovering every day from opioid abuse and benzo addictions. Treatment centers are more available than ever before, and their therapeutic modalities and experiential therapies, mixed with clinical addiction services, have helped thousands of people recover.

It is natural to want to understand why this epidemic has taken place in the last few decades. The following is an overview of the history of the prescription drug epidemic, prescribing practices, and a possible reversal of the epidemic in the last year or so.

History of the Prescription Drug Epidemic

The opioid epidemic is not as new as some want to believe. It first began to affect households and families in the 1990s before becoming the monster that has torn through and destroyed families in the last decade. The opioid epidemic has gone through three distinct stages:

  1. In the 1990s, prescriptions for opioids began to increase, and overdose deaths involving opioids started to rise for the first time in the late 1990s.
  2. In 2010, the second wave took hold as heroin overdose deaths increased at incredibly fast rates.
  3. The third stage, beginning in 2013, the fentanyl-driven overdose epidemic began. Illicitly-manufactured fentanyl (IMF) first started appearing in other street drugs such as cocaine, heroin, counterfeit pills, and meth.

Much of the epidemic has been traced to the aggressive marketing campaign of OxyContin, the controversial and highly-addictive pain medication that has been blamed for creating hillbilly heroin. OxyContin’s revenue jumped from $48 million in 1999 all the way up to $1.1 billion in 2001. In just two years, OxyContin production and revenue increased over 2,000 percent.

Prescribing Practices

“Doctor Shoppers” are defined “as seeing multiple treatment providers, either during a single illness episode or to procure prescription medications illicitly.” It is an extensive and complex issue, which probably only accounts for 2-5% of all people addicted to prescription drugs. Many states have passed legislation to criminalize this practice. However, it does not appear to be a driving factor behind the decades-long surge in prescription opiate abuse.

Instead, over-prescription and patient databases are being investigated. As of October 2, 2018, doctors in California are now required to check a patient’s prescription and drug abuse history database before prescribing opioids or benzos. It is being hailed as a benchmark piece of legislation that may lead to nation-wide changes in prescribing practices.

A (Slimmer) of National Hope

For the first time in decades, the number of deaths involving prescription overdoses decreased in 2017. Preliminary data released from the CDC offers a glimmer of hope as overdose deaths have fallen in each of the last seven months. A number of local, state, and national initiatives seem to be helping.

If you are ready to become part of the positive trend in reversing the opioid epidemic, Boardwalk Recovery can be the helping hand to help lift you out of the lake of despair that is addiction. Call today to start your new path in regaining yourself, rebuilding your relationships with those you love, and take control of your life’s story. If you are the friend, parent, or partner of someone struggling with prescription drugs, we would be happy to talk with you about how to approach them about recovery and the process of living sober, clean, and happy.

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