The Evolution of the Opioid Crisis

Posted by Recovery Ways on Sep 5, 2019 10:00:00 AM


Most Americans are no strangers to the Opioid Epidemic, in fact - as we noted previously - President Trump declared it a public health emergency in 2017. 

Large numbers of deaths caused by opioid overdose characterize what we refer to as an opioid epidemic. While misuse of opioids in the United States dates back to the Civil War, the current opioid epidemic extends back to the early 1990’s. But did you know there were actually three waves to the current epidemic? The first wave of it began in 1991, the second around 2010, and the third in 2013. 

Experts determine these waves according to how changes in the accessibility of opioids correlate with sharp increases in deaths related to opioid overdose. For example, the first wave emerged in 1991 alongside a sharp increase in the manufacturing, marketing, and prescribing of opioid and opioid-combination medications. This combination of factors led to large numbers of people getting hooked on prescription opioids. Several years later, efforts to decrease opioid prescribing habits and diversion practices made prescription opioids less accessible. Many of those already addicted to them turned to heroin, a non-synthetic opioid, or opiate. A rapid increase in deaths due to heroin abuse started around 2010, marking the second wave. In fact, deaths due to heroin-related overdose increased by 286% from 2002 to 2013. At the time, heroin was cheaper and easier to access, and this study shows that over 80% of heroin users first misused opioid painkillers.

In 2013, the third wave of the current opioid epidemic began. This time researchers found synthetic opioids like fentanyl responsible for a third sharp increase in deaths, particularly those manufactured illicitly. Unlike poppy or heroin-based opiates, synthetic opioids like fentanyl are relatively easy to produce, particularly in countries that have more lax pharmaceutical laws. The effects of fentanyl is also significantly more powerful than heroin, making it optimal for exploitation. By 2017, more than 70, 200 people died from opioid overdose. That is enough people to fill the 2019 Superbowl stadium, and half were due to super potent, man-made opioids like fentanyl.

While oxycodone, the drug responsible for the first wave of the current opioid epidemic, is two-times stronger than morphine, fentanyl is 100 times stronger than morphine. That’s why this third wave is even more dangerous than previous waves. People who already have substance abuse disorder may not realize the incredibly dangerous strength of the much cheaper fentanyl they’ve purchased. First-time users can get hooked immediately, and anyone can overdose the first time they use fentanyl. Since it is so cheap and so strong, fentanyl is being used as an additive to cut various street drugs. Many people may not even realize that fentanyl is in the drug they’ve purchased. From 2016 to 2017, emergency room visits due to suspected opioid overdose rose by 30%. 

Recovering from opioid addiction is no easy feat. But there is help. Find out the truth on what works and the options available to you by downloading our free eBook. If you are ready to take the next steps, contact us for a private consultation.

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Topics: Addiction

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Recovery Ways is a premier drug and alcohol addiction treatment facility located in Salt Lake City, Utah. Our mission is to provide the most cost-effective, accessible substance abuse treatment to as many people as possible.

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