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According to the CDC, approximately 70,237 deaths occurred in the United States in 2017. Not only are these numbers shocking, but it is primarily synthetic opioids that are the leading cause of a majority of these deaths. Consider that out of those recorded 70,237 deaths, 47,600 of those overdoses are attributed to opioids (67.8%). In this article, let’s take an overview of when the opioid crisis started in the US, and the state of affairs today in the country and in Georgia.

How Did the Opioid Crisis Start?

Opioids have been a problem drug for hundreds of years. However, the opioid epidemic in the United States could be said to have really started in the 1990’s. Many health and news organizations organize the opioid crisis into 3 distinct waves.

The First Wave In the Opioid Crisis

Pain and chronic pain are commonplace in modern life. While it is an immensely complex topic, the intersection of worsening dietary choices and their impacts on American citizens (and citizens of western countries in general) in combination with the modern, sedentary lifestyle has fueled chronic pain.

Pharmaceutical corporations—seeing an opportunity, directed their efforts to convince the medical community that opioids were safe. Therein lies the issue with the pharmaceutical industry, it should be no surprise that the billions of dollars ($515b come from the US and Canada) in net value that the pharmaceutical industry possesses was used to push opiates into the market as an effective and safe pain medication.

Most importantly, the addictiveness of these drugs were believed to be negligible or low. In retrospect, this in itself is a bizarre fact considering historically speaking, opiates/opioids have always been a potentially addicting substance for as long as people have known that concoctions derived from the opium poppy have led to highly addicting substances.

For example, many American soldiers during the civil war were addicted to morphine—which was of course, used as a painkiller. Laudanum was a 16th-century concoction that was composed of opium and alcohol mixed together for the purposes of relieving pain. Opium addiction has previously run rampant in 19th century in Britain; wars were waged purely over opium in Asia—aptly named the opium wars. Opium was banned in 1905 by the US Congress.

Despite all of this, the medical community and America at large was somehow swayed by the idea that opiates/opioids were not addictive or dangerous. As a result, the ability for anyone to simply acquire a prescription for opiates was remarkably easy. Opioids were being prescribed in numbers that would be shocking by today’s standards.

The Second Wave Opioid Epidemic

This carried on until about 2010 or 2011 when the staggering statistics of opioid-related deaths were correlated with increasing heroin use as well as deaths involving heroin. The escalation of heroin deaths were too great to ignore and pointed to a growing national crisis.

Originally in the first wave of addiction, substances such as morphine and codeine were leading the pack in opiate-related addiction. These painkillers—while not completely natural, are more derivative from the opium poppy than what was to come. The second wave of the opioid crisis saw that the reduction and subsequent regulations around prescribing opiates (something that only continues to get stricter today) has seen an increase in street drug usage to compensate or coincide with prescription drug abuse.

Third Wave of the Opioid Epidemic

Just a few years after the second wave saw an explosion in overdose deaths due to new, more potent synthetic opiates (opioids). Fentanyl is frequently named the most dangerous illegal drug in the country. Ohio was the red flag that set off the alarm for fentanyl in the country. In Dayton, Ohio, several deaths were recorded that were initially thought to be the result of heroin but instead were found to be from fentanyl. Several hundred people were dying of fentanyl overdoses daily in Ohio in 2015.

Fentanyl—like many drugs is not new, but the availability of it had made it as deadly as it is. Anyone who works in the narcotics space knows that accessibility is everything. Fentanyl was accessible, more so than anything else of its kind. The issue comes from when the cheaper alternative to many drugs is also considerably more potent. Deaths due to fentanyl were doubling year to year from 2013-2016.

The Opioid Crisis in Georgia

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In 2017, there were 1,014 overdose deaths involving opioids in Georgia. The category that experienced the largest increase was deaths involving synthetic opioids such as fentanyl—419 deaths in 2017 as compared to 61 in 2012. The deaths resulting from heroin overdose also increased during this time period according to the statistics which is in line with the information regarding the second wave of the opioid crisis.

GA providers in 2017 wrote 70.9 prescriptions for opioids for every 100 persons. The average rate in the US at the time was a rate of 58.7 prescriptions per 100 persons.

Not only is the country and state being ravaged by drug overdoses, but what many people fail to address also is the concurrent rise in new cases of HIV and Hepatitis C that are a direct result of injecting drugs and sharing needles. For example, hepatitis rates had increased by 249% from 2010 to 2016.

Addiction Treatment for Opioids in Georgia

It is important to continually drive home how dire the situation is. While pharmacies and medical institutions have been cracking down on the prescription of opiates and opioids, it is in some sense little-too-late. While it is a good thing that the prescription of these drugs has undergone significant scrutiny, unfortunately, many people have developed addictions due to the overzealous prescription of these drugs in the past.

It is a misconception that drug addiction stems purely from situations where people are seeking recreational use. Many people have become addicted to opiates as a result of being prescribed them for a simple operation or procedure that may or may not have required them.

Addiction is a disease, and not everyone responds to drugs the same. Where one person can take opiate painkillers such as morphine and get off of them the next week, some people have a much more pronounced response and have difficulty weaning off of them. When their prescriptions run out, they seek it out elsewhere—often from much more unsafe means such as street drugs. It’s all downhill from there.

Regardless of how you have come upon your addiction, whether it is drugs or alcohol, Southeast Addiction Center in Norcross, Georgia is here to help. Our purpose is simple: we want to help addicts establish sustainable recovery. Whether you join us in our PHP, IOP, or OP program we will do everything in our power to help you get on the right path.

Contact us today so we can hear more about your story and determine from there the best course of action for your highly specific needs.