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Rising epidemic: Understanding America's opioid problem

by The Stylus Staff
Tue, Sep 26th 2017 08:00 pm

Last fall, in The Village of Brockport, a 20-year-old man was found dead from a heroin overdose in Corbett Park. This goes to show that addiction and overdose can happen anywhere. 

As college students, we are in a privileged position and often use this position to look down upon people in environments that drive them to abuse substances. But opioid addiction can occur anywhere, from big cities, to even our small town.

It should be taken into consideration that a majority of opioid addiction stems from medicine prescribed by doctors, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and morphine. The overprescription of opioids occurs when people go in for routine surgery, get prescribed unnecessary opioids for pain treatment and gradually become addicted. 

All of these patients who might have just went in to treat some pain may receive a prescription stronger than they would have regularly needed.

Dependence and addiction are potential risks when taking prescription opioids. Opioids are highly addictive and are extremely easy to overdose on. Patients become overly dependent on the medication and seek more, which leads to obtaining the drugs illegally. This in turn leads to overdosing because people do not know how much is okay to take at once or they begin taking the drugs in search for the strongest high possible. 

People who eventually become addicted to prescribed opioids do not initially think they will become addicted. Opioids end up taking over control of users mentally and physically. 

Addicts are victims of their addictions. Opioids cause large surges of productiondopamine in the brain, which causes extreme relaxation and euphoria. These repeated surges of dopamine from taking these drugs is what leads to addiction. 

People throw themselves in front of cars, get unnecessary dental surgery, and put themselves in harm’s way just to be prescribed more opioids. 

According to drugabuse.org, nearly 23,000 people died from an overdose of a prescription pain medication in 2015, with alarming increases among young people ages 15 to 24. The national average life expectancy has even gone down because of opioid abuse.

Narcan, coined the “opioid antidote,” is a prescription medicine that blocks the effects of opioids and reverses an overdose. Narcan sales have dramatically increased throughout the last few years in response to increasing opioid abuse.

We at The Stylus are increasingly aware of the alarming rates of opioid abuse in our local area and surrounding cities. We believe that addiction is an affliction which attacks its victims from the inside out. Treating addicts who are sick like criminals doesn’t help them in any way. 

Drug addicts are often thrown in jail and not at all treated for their illness. In addition to not receiving the treatment they need to overcome their addiction, many states classify drug charges as felonies, and most employers won’t hire a candidate with a felony on their record. Left with no legal means of making money, addicts and former addicts are forced to make money illegally and often additionally become homeless.  

A lot of the time, their illness isn’t addressed because it’s seen as illegal. But drugs, not drug addicts, need to be policed. It is evident that overprescription and effortless accessibility of the drug have been large causes behind the rise of overdoses in the past two decades. 

Although addicts do not solely rely on doctors for obtaining opioids, the distribution of the drug from physicians is a huge problem. The reality is that action has to be taken to reduce the prescribing of the drug. 

A simple but crucial approach to this issue is to better educate doctors in pain management. Updating prescription guidelines would further improve the conflict behind overprescribing. 

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has also been working with the state law enforcement with the goal of putting a stop to the spread of pill mills, reducing one of the primary sources of opioids. 

According to studies, the percentage of overdoses from opioids has decreased in recent years. With the help of education, organizations and the end of pill mills, the problem of overprescription can be erasedin the near future. 

Addiction pertaining to alcohol is seen as acceptable and normalized, but opioid abuse is seen as something to be ashamed of and looked down upon. Opioid addiction is still highly stigmatized and the driving force of this crusade society has against the victims is the apathy we normalize.

The context in which an addict becomes addicted is completely ignored. Addiction does not discriminate against certain races, classes or location. Anybody can fall victim to the power of opioids, and we need to start seeing these people as victims and not criminals.

We at The College at Brockport, whose symbol is a torch, are expected to lead the charge in lighting the dark world of ignorance. 

Hopefully, our new major, alcohol and substance abuse studies will help educate students enrolled in that department at The College at Brockport and end the stigma many of us have against opioid abusers and drug addicts in general. 

There have been moves to better assist those suffering from opioid addiction. However, the best way to change the way we respond to drug addiction is change the way we see it. 

We need more effective rehabilitation centers, scale-backs on big pharmacies prescribing opioids post-surgery, and lastly, we as a society need to be further educated on the realities of opioid abuse so we can help end the stigma and give drug addicts the treatment they need and deserve instead of throwing them in jail.

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Taken by Vincent Croce:
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