The opioid crisis today


Opioids are a dangerous addictive drug.

Kate Montano, Reporter

In 2018 about 10.3 million Americans, ages 12 and older, misused opioids. About 9.9 million of them were prescription painkiller abusers and 808,000 of them were heroine users. Opioids are drugs that were created to replicate opium, which is another highly addictive drug that is made from an opium poppy flower. Prescription drugs, such as morphine and oxycodone, are legal opioids when prescribed, but others like heroin are an illegal opioid. 

But what’s even more startling is that the opioid crisis has been going on for almost 30 years and almost 30% of people prescribed opioids misuse them. So why is this happening? Why do so many people misuse opioids when they are only prescribed to help with pain management after a medical crisis? The answer is not so simple, but a big part of it is the pharmaceutical companies that have provided the opioids all along. 

Companies such as Johnson & Johnson and Mallinckrodt are large opioid manufacturers in the United States. Mallinckrodt was the biggest supplier of opioids between 2006 and 2014; the company shipped more than 2.2 billion opioids.  

The opioid crisis began in the late 1990s, when pharmaceutical companies assured that when doctors and healthcare providers prescribed opioids to relieve pain, the patients would not become addicted because of their low addiction rate, which was untrue. Because pharmaceutical companies told the medical community that opioids were not dangerous, more doctors started to prescribe them at higher rates, making the patients become addicted. 

iSchool science teacher Ms. Brown says, “There were no credible studies for how many people may get addicted, it was done for money because there’s no money in giving opioids to terminal patients who aren’t gonna use it for long term, they want long term users so that they can make money, so I think its their fault.”

Now in 2020, pharmaceutical companies are being sued by many states for their role in the opioid crisis, and for the money they made after prescribing the drugs that fueled the epidemic. The money that is made by the states will go to treatment, education, and prevention for drug addiction. 

Now the Trump administration has signed opioid legislation into law such as the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act , which sponsors research to find new ways to manage pain other than opioids but rather a different type of drug that’s less addictive. But even with the knowledge that opioids are highly addictive and dangerous, new legislation, and money for new programs, some people may not be aware of the damage that opioids have on people. 

When asked about what they knew about the opioid crisis, an iSchool student said, “I know that it involves drugs, that’s all I know.” But that simple information that the opioid crisis involves drugs is not enough. 

Without the knowledge on the effect of opioids, the cycle can easily repeat and each generation will continue to misuse opioids and become addicted. 

Ms. Brown says, “So we know that 90% of addiction happens as a teenager, in adolescence and we know that opioids aren’t being prescribed to young people in high numbers, but they are getting it from family members and getting it on the black market, and it has increased addiction and increased heroin use.”

Heroin has also become a large problem within addiction. The CDC says “In 2018, nearly 15,000 people died from a drug overdose involving heroin in the United States, a rate of almost 5 deaths for every 100,000 Americans.” Heroin is never prescribed and was created to be sold on the black market. 

“Now because there’s so much restriction on getting [opioids], people are turning to black markets and heroin,” said Ms. Brown. Black market heroin can be even more dangerous than prescription drugs because it’s easier to get and can be made differently, which can be incredibly harmful. Heroin injection is another common way to spread HIV. 

Not only have opioids become a large legal problem, but there is a big race component to this crisis. Between 1984 and 1990 was the “Crack epidemic,” which was mostly framed as an issue among the black community, and so people who used and sold crack cocaine were usually punished with jail time, even though cocaine was an issue for white people too. The strict punishment had a lot to do with their race, and while they were in jail white cocaine users continued to use and sell cocaine. And now in the opioid epidemic, the law is a lot more lenient to those who use and sell opioids on the black market. 

During the war against drugs, there was mass incarceration, and now there is treatment. “White people addicted to drugs are perceived as victims in need of treatment.  Black people addicted to drugs are perceived as criminals who are sent to jail,” said Focus For Health

But as the punishment for possession changes, the way addiction is prevented should too. Education is increasingly important as the next generation may not know much and start to abuse pain medication and become addicted. 

“What it is? Why is it a crisis?” responded an iSchool Student when asked what they wanted to know about the opioid crisis. Although at the iSchool, students in 10th grade are required to take a course on the effect on drugs, at other schools, students are often not taught about the effects drugs have on them. 

The U.S. The Department of Education says, “[Students] should be supported in developing decision-making skills and in developing understanding about ways to resist pressure to experiment with and misuse drugs.” And although they should in fact be supported they also need to be taught about the danger drugs can do physically and mentally. 

The opioid crisis has become a cycle of people who misuse prescription drugs and there after may turn to the black market. These actions are partly due to large opioid manufacturers ensuring that opioids were safe so doctors would over prescribe so they would make more money. But today these companies are being punished for their action, so while the government continues to find a new pain relief drug that’s less addictive, schools should continue to find ways to end the cycle.