How Did The Opioid Epidemic Begin?
Opioids are drugs that act on the nervous system to relieve pain. Continued use and abuse can lead to physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms. Well-known brand names include Oxycontin and Percocet.
In the 1990’s pharmaceutical companies began to aggressively market opioids as a guaranteed pain reliever. From 1996 to 2002, prescriptions issued for OxyContin in the US increased tenfold over those six years, from 670,000 a year to more than six million. Painkillers proliferated through barely regulated pain treatment centers, or “pill mills”. These pills landed in the hands of not just patients ,but also teens rummaging through their parents’ medicine cabinets, other family members and friends of patients, and the black market.
Government intervention and regulations shut down the opioid pipeline, but in the process may have created a worse outcome. Many people who lost access to painkillers were still addicted and turned to cheaper, more potent opioids: heroin and fentanyl, a synthetic often manufactured illegally for non-medical uses.
Today, America is losing almost 1,000 people a week to drug overdoses. Two-thirds of those are opioid fatalities, but with a rising number of heroin and fentanyl deaths.