America had some 6,100 tragic opioid overdoses in 1980, but this has skyrocketed to more than 56,516 in 2020. In 2015, opioid overdoses reached a point of severity that has caused American life expectancy to begin dropping year after year. How did it happen that the issue became ten times as severe in just a few decades? It’s not a mystery, and the origin lies in fraudulent marketing and manipulation of evidence by groups within the medical industry.
The First Wave of the Opioid Epidemic
During the 80s and 90s, there was rising sympathy about chronic pain being an issue that deserved treatment. Opioids had known pain-relieving qualities, but doctors only offered them sparingly due to their addictive nature and regulations against careless opioid prescription. This wave of consciousness about chronic pain was to some extent hijacked by fraudulent marketing from the pharmaceutical industry, with widespread claims that opioids aren’t addictive when used to treat pain.
The campaign lead to widespread overprescription of opioid painkillers throughout the 90s as Congress eliminated the regulatory penalties for prescribing opioids unnecessarily. Doctors began prescribing opioids with increasing frequency and people developed addictions even as they followed their recommended prescriptions. By 1999, opioid overdoses were already spiking.
Progress Combatting Opioid Abuse
Throughout the first decade of the new millennium, people made a feverish effort to raise awareness and sympathy for addiction. Once-common hateful attitudes toward those who suffer from addiction are increasingly uncommon, and most Americans agree that no one wants to be an addict. By the early 2010s, there was progress in slowing and reversing the opioid epidemic. While rates of use were in relative control, overdose rates skyrocketed once more as heroin and fentanyl hit the streets.
Heroin and Fentanyl Define the Second Wave
In the timeframe of 2010-2014, illicit heroin and fentanyl became increasingly accessible on the street. Heroin is an infamously dangerous street drug, and illicit fentanyl is extremely powerful as well. It can be 50-100 times as potent as morphine, and it’s also become common for drug dealers to lace other drugs with fentanyl. Even if someone intends to stay away from opioids, they can end up suffering an overdose or developing an opioid addiction while using something as common and socially accepted as marijuana. Unfortunately, it continued getting worse in 2020, as overdose rates reached a new peak in the wake of the pandemic.
A Third Wave During the COVID-19 Pandemic
One of the driving factors of the drug abuse epidemic is self-medication for physical pain and mental illness. With the pandemic and its economic uncertainty, isolating lockdowns, and a generalized environment of fear, many people have turned to drugs to cope. You can characterize this as the third wave of the opioid epidemic, and it’s unfortunately the worst that it’s been.
However, advocates and treatment centers have spent the pandemic learning how best to treat addiction and raising awareness. There are better options for treatment than ever, and there’s real cause for optimism once the pandemic ends.
We’re Doing Our Part
At Hickory Treatment Centers, our ultimate goal is to help see the opioid pandemic to its end. We use evidence-based treatment, compassionate care, and a modern repertoire of treatment methods to help people get clean. Learn more about addiction and treatment by following Hickory Treatment Centers and reach out to us if you need help.