January 21, 2020
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What Caused the Modern Opioid Epidemic?

A person who wants to earn a degree in healthcare management or administration may want to know what caused the modern opioid epidemic. The opioid epidemic in the United States has spread into Canada, and it has multiple factors that caused it to become severe and widespread. Understanding the causes of the modern opioid epidemic could help a person accomplish more in their healthcare management career.

Pharmaceutical Companies Spreading Lies

In the late 1990s, multiple pharmaceutical companies conducted intense marketing campaigns towards physicians. They lied about the side effects and consequences of the opioid pain relievers they produced. From the pharmaceutical representatives who visited physician offices to the CEOs of the firms, lies were spread about the potential for addiction and misuse of the prescription opioid pain relievers, especially oxycodone and hydrocodone.

Physicians Over-prescribing Opioid Drugs

Convinced that their patients could not become addicted to prescription opioid pain relievers, physicians found it quite easy to simply write prescriptions for every person who came in with a chief complaint of pain. The drugs were effective at treating pain until patients built a tolerance to them. Some clinics opened with physicians seeing more than 100 patients every day just for pain prescriptions. There was a lack of oversight and regulation around documenting the visits and the diagnostic process, and some physicians blatantly lied about what they did in order to justify writing a prescription for opioid pain relievers.

Individuals Misusing Their Prescription Medications

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 26 to 29 percent of people who receive a prescription for an opioid pain reliever abuse their medication. About 6 percent of people who got an opioid pain reliever prescription transitioned to heroin once their prescriptions ran out or they could no longer find a doctor to keep writing more prescriptions for more pills or higher doses. This was necessary to the patient because opioid drugs cause a person to build a tolerance as the body becomes addicted. Heroin is typically injected into the body, but it can also be smoked or snorted. Injection yields a faster high, resulting in people who could no longer get oxycodone pills to turn to the heroin they bought on the street.

Easy Availability of Street Drugs

Once a person becomes addicted to heroin, they must use it multiple times per day in order to avoid going through withdrawal. Street drug dealers began to cut heroin with a more powerful opioid called fentanyl. This is a powerful pain reliever typically used by anesthesiologists for people undergoing surgical procedures and for cancer pain. Fentanyl is 100 times more potent than heroin, and people didn’t know their heroin was cut with it. In 2017, more than 47,000 people died of an opioid overdose related to heroin and fentanyl.

Multiple entities bear responsibility for the modern opioid epidemic, and it will take the country as a whole to come together in order to solve this pervasive problem. From physicians who can make a choice as to what to prescribe to a person in pain and pharmacists who can refuse to fill prescriptions for known drug abusers to the lawmakers who regulate prescription drugs, everyone has a role to fill. Knowing what caused the modern opioid epidemic gives a person some ideas on how to take action in order to come to a solution.