What is the Opioid Crisis, and what caused it?

Since the 1990s, the US has seen significant increases in the rates of opioid abuse and opioid-related deaths. In fact, the issue has become so severe and prominent in the country, that many health organizations have categorized this crisis as a national emergency and an “Opioid Epidemic.”

The Opioid Crisis describes the abuse of prescription opioids like oxycodone and non-prescribed opioids like heroin and fentanyl. During the 1990s, pharmaceutical companies began increasing their production of prescription medications. In order to sell the amount they were producing, these companies encouraged doctors and other medical professionals to increase the prescription of these medications by claiming they were not addictive or harmful to patients. Soon, painkillers were the most common way to treat pain as compared to treatments like physical therapy.

As the US population began relying more heavily on prescription opioids to treat their pain, they began experiencing some of the common side effects of these medications that pharmaceutical companies chose not to reveal to medical practitioners. This led to extremely high rates of overdose and death in the US, as demonstrated by the CDC’s diagram.

However, the impact of this over-prescription did not end there. Another side effect that results from misuse or high intake of prescription drugs is a buildup of tolerance, where these medications no longer produce the same “high” as they did before. This, in many cases, encouraged individuals to resort to other opioids like heroin and fentanyl that would produce the same effect, and this too led to high numbers of overdose and death. The shift towards these semi-synthetic and synthetic medications is considered to be the second and third “waves” of the Opioid Crisis because they continued to increase the rates of drug abuse in the US.

Sadly, this issue is still extremely prevalent today. According to the CDC, there were 58 opioid prescriptions were written per 100 Americans in 2017, so the Opioid Crisis still poses a threat to individuals today. However, the NCAPDA and many organizations are fighting to change this, and so can you by remaining informed and educated.

Written by Anika
Last Updated: September 10, 2021

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