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Understanding the U.S. Opioid Crisis

February 13, 2018
The opioid epidemic is a public health emergency. The best way to protect yourself and your family is to understand the scope of the crisis, what’s being done on a national scale and steps you can take to limit the impact on your family.

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Today, news stories about the opioid epidemic and the fallout of opioid addiction and overdoses are everywhere, and some may hit too close to home. This widespread problem is a national public health emergency.

But the good news is that multiple strategies are being adopted to help reduce the number of opioid overdoses. Here’s what you need to know.

The Impact of Opioids

Opioids are drugs that doctors prescribe to relieve pain. Prescription opioids include morphine, methadone, hydrocodone, oxycodone, and fentanyl. Illegal opioids include the street drug heroin.

  • Drug misuse causes 2.5 million emergency room visits per year. More than half of these visits are related to prescription drugs.
  • Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S. Every day, 125 people in the U.S. die from overdoses involving opioids.
  • Every 25 minutes, a baby is born in the U.S. suffering from opioid withdrawal.
  • 259 million opioid prescriptions were written in 2012. That’s enough for every American adult to have their own bottle of pills!
  • Women over 45 years old and men under 45 have higher rates of opioid addiction.
Working to Solve the Opioid Crisis

Because the opioid epidemic is so widespread, it will take everyone working together to stop it. It’s important that the federal and state governments, medical professionals, health insurance companies, law enforcement agencies, first responders, and members of the public — including you! — all come together to work on the problem. Here are some positive developments:

  • Opioid prescriptions peaked in 2010 and have dropped 18 percent since then. Prescriptions for the riskiest opioids have fallen 41 percent.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines for prescribers in 2016 to reduce opioid prescribing, especially for chronic conditions.
  • States have cracked down on how many pills doctors can prescribe at a time.
  • Health insurance companies now cover medication-assisted treatment programs for addiction. Research has shown that these programs are safe and effective.
What You Can Do To Protect Yourself
  • Talk to your doctor about other methods of pain relief first, including physical therapy, acupuncture, yoga and non-opioid medications.
  • If you have to take opioids, take the smallest possible dose for the shortest possible time.
  • Educate yourself on your prescription. Be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions exactly. Call your pharmacy right away with any questions about how to take your prescription safely.
  • Dispose of any leftover opioids right away using a local drug take-back program. Your pharmacy can tell you how to safely get rid of any medication you don’t need.
  • If you think a loved one may be dependent on opioids, use the National Institute of Drug Abuse website as a resource.

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