Opioid Pennsylvania (3,624), Ohio (3,310), West Virginia (725),

Opioid
Conundrum

There is an epidemic that has taken over
America, and it is killing more and more Americans each year. Its deadly reach
is from the aristocrat suburbs of New England to the liberal shores of
California, from the sunny beaches of Florida to the backwoods of Appalachian
foothills. In 2016, just one year alone, more people in the U.S. died from this
than for the entirety of the Vietnam War. In fact, this number has grown
exponentially every year, and if it keeps this rate of growth, it will reach
500,000 in the next decade. In the past, the US has combated events of this
magnitude with new drugs. But what if the cause
of this epidemic was a drug? The opioid conundrum
is now what this country is facing with no conceivable end in sight.

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The US has had a long history of using
opioids even before this recent uptick in addiction and overdoses. During and after the Civil War, morphine was
given to wounded soldiers and veterans to ease the pain and suffering, which
resulted from horrendous injuries. Because of limited advances in medicine at
the time, morphine was considered a phenomenal drug to treat severe pain.
Doctors, not fully understanding the concept of addiction at the time, freely
prescribed morphine for pain management and sleeping problems. Towards the end of
the century, in 1898, Bayer Pharmaceutical Company started mass producing and
commercializing a new drug called Heroin, which is
derived from morphine by boiling it for several hours. Bayer marketed
their new drug as being non-addicting, so heroin was instantly popular for the treatment of pain management
and for the people who had become addicted to morphine. During this period, it
was the start of, what can perhaps be called, planting the seed of addiction
that would have reverberating and lasting effects.

Although the entire country has been
engulfed by the opioid crises, some areas have been hit the hardest. For the
year of 2015, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported mortality
rates from drug overdoses for states such as Pennsylvania (3,624), Ohio
(3,310), West Virginia (725), and Kentucky (1,273), which have been the
outliers in the national average. These neighboring states have had a
substantial increase in death rates. However, one state, according to a report
in the New York Times, had the most significant increase in death rates between
2015 and 2016, and that is Florida. This trend has been accelerating at an
alarming rate, and the Centers for Disease Control reports that Florida, in
just a twelve-month period from January 2016 to January 2017, had a fifty-one
percent increase. Due to this rapid influx of opioid-related deaths, in May of
2017, the governor of Florida declared a public health emergency.  

As common knowledge goes, admitting there
is a problem is the first course of action in fighting addiction. After years
of increasing overdoses, the opioid crisis is finally getting the attention is
has deserved in Florida. Gov. Rick Scott took steps to implement new laws and
funding proposals to tackle the opioid epidemic. Although this is a step in the right direction, the
fifty-million-dollar recommendation is lacking in sustenance as compared to the
severity of the situation. Florida already lags far behind the rest of the
nation for what each state spends on mental health and drug rehabilitation
programs. But any amount of funding will be welcomed with open-arms to reverse
the upward trend, according to 2016 figures, of fourteen opioid-related deaths
a year in Florida. 

Florida has had an extensive past in
opioids, in fact, the state had a moniker “pill mill,” which referred to the
ease of access at which painkillers could be obtained legally by a prescription
from a licensed professional. In the past, Florida
was one of the few states that did not have a prescription monitoring
system, and by 2010, it had ninety-eight percent of the nation’s top
painkiller-prescribing doctors. According to Drug Enforcement Agency data,
Florida “pill mill” clinics were dispensing one million oxycodone pills, a
highly addictive pain narcotic, every month. With the prevalence of clinics
prescribing pain-killers and no monitoring system, patients began “doctor
shopping,” going from one doctor to the next accumulating multiple opioid
prescriptions. Once the prescription monitoring systems were in place,
distribution of prescription opioids rapidly declined throughout the state;
although one door was closed, another one opened. Susan Pitman—executive
director of Drug-Free Duval—explains, “When we
slammed down on pill mills, we had all these people who were already addicted,
but we didn’t have a plan in place to treat them.” Because the seed of
addiction was planted, addicts resorted to other means to feed their addiction,
illegal drugs.   

One drug that has received attention
lately is fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is ten to fifty times as potent as
morphine and heroin, widely used in the field of medicine. When monitored and
administered by medical professionals, fentanyl is considered a safe surgical
anesthetic, but it can be deadly if the dose is not set at the prescribed
limits. As explained by Jack Riley, Deputy Administrator for the Drug
Enforcement Agency, “A very small amount
ingested, or absorbed through your skin, can kill you.” Although
fentanyl is also made by pharmaceutical companies in the US, it has been
entering illegally via the border with Mexico and by mail from China. According
to the data from Florida’s medical examiners—for the latter part of 2016, just
six months—there were seven-hundred deaths from fentanyl overdose, alone.

The death rates for opioid overdoses in
Florida is high, but perhaps what is more distressing is these numbers are not
just from large cities but small towns and rural areas as well. Northwest
Florida has seen opioid-related deaths skyrocket in just a few short years.
According to the Florida Medical Examiners Commission—Escambia, Santa Rosa,
Okaloosa, and Walton counties—there were nine heroin-related deaths between
2001 and 2013. For 2014, there were twelve deaths in just one year. In 2015,
the number doubled to twenty-eight deaths. For 2016, in the latter part of the
year, there was a slight decrease in the number of reported overdose deaths. The reduction in deaths is believed to be the
direct result of police and medical first responders use of Narcan or
naloxone—an antidote for opioid overdose—which was made readily available in
March of 2016.

Simply put, the opioid epidemic is a
serious problem that started with medical doctors freely prescribing
painkillers without fully understanding the dangers of opioid addiction. For this
reason, government entities, state agencies, and medical groups have—just within
a few years—started public acknowledgment on the severity of opioid addiction, which
started regulation and monitoring for prescriptions. Consequently, this pull back
caused addicts to resort to the illegal drug trade, which has more potent drugs
and almost impossible to control. Ostensibly, there is no silver bullet to fix this
epidemic that has been swelling out of control, but with continued public discourse
on opioids, this nation can educate itself to achieve the goal of eradicating opioid
addiction. 

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