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Opioid Crisis in America

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The opioid crisis in the United States is arguably one of the most significant national crisis’ of the past few decades. This epidemic comes as the result of the misuse and addiction to heroin, prescription pain medication, and synthetic opioids by millions of Americans. This issue has had a significant impact on many members of our society and should come as no surprise that it not only affects the individuals who have become addicted, and their immediate friends and family but also to our national public health, as well as our social and economic welfare. In 2017, President Trump announced that his administration was “officially declaring the opioid crisis as a national Public Health Emergency under federal law” due to its ravaging nature that has affected hundreds of thousands of Americans.

In addition to this, there is a significant financial strain placed on our government as we frantically search for new methods, programs and practices to help alleviate this widespread drug problem. While it is difficult to put an exact number on the cost of the opioid crisis, some estimates have placed the nationwide cost in 2015 at $504 billion, according to Market Watch. These numbers quickly accumulate when you begin to consider health-care bills, costs of law enforcement efforts, and drug treatment services. In fact, many cities across the nation have begun to file lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors in attempts to be compensated for some of their costs. The question then is how this all began, when did this become such a national crisis, and what events took place in order for this occur?

The truth is, this epidemic has been an ongoing crisis which began in the mid to late 1990s as pharmaceutical companies and health care providers started prescribing opioid pain medication at alarming rates. These companies were under the impression that these medications were non-addictive or habit-forming, and patients would be at no risk of becoming hooked on these drugs. Unfortunately, this was not the case and we began to see widespread misuse of these medications, along with an alarming increase in heroin users, as it was a cheaper, more easily attainable option to natural and synthetic opioids. While this issue has taken place for over twenty years, there have been no signs of it slowing down and in fact, it has only worsened over time. According to the National Safety Council, over 42,000 Americans died as the result of an opioid overdose in 2016. (National Safety Council, 2018). Compare this to just six years prior in 2010, when the opioid overdose death toll was only around 10,000. With these rates rising every day, it is clear that the undertaking of this problem has become far more pressing, and requires immediate action and attention. By exploring the biological, psychological, and sociological components of this crisis, we can better understand the underlying risk factors and influences that have affected it.

Despite the widespread misconception that drug addiction occurs as a result of a lack of willpower and discipline, years of studies and research have shown that our biological make-up have alot more to do with drug addiction than most people believe. In fact, The American Society of Addictions Medicine (ASAM), which is the nation’s largest professional society of addiction physicians have discovered that our genetics account for about 50% of our likelihood to developing a drug addiction. (Cooper et all, 2018). Much like other diseases, addiction is no different and the probability of developing an addiction varys depending on the individual. Some individuals will have many risk factors that make them more highly receptive to drug addiction, and others will have more protective factors which would reduce their potential for addictive habits. This is because of the many variables of our biological factors, including our genetics, gender, stages of development, potential mental disorders, and ethnicity; all of which alter the effects that drugs have on our body. For example, when heroin or other opioids are introduced in the body, the normal, natural chemicals that are typically released seem to lessen significantly and the effects of the opioid begin to appear.

Depending on the many factors mentioned previously, the body’s natural chemicals are affected differently, and therefore the impact that opioids have on the body is altered significantly from person to person. This process is what causes a greater potential in some individuals to develop an addiction. Because of this information, it has been argued by many that addiction should be considered a chronic disease of the brain. Given this information, it is important to understand that while biological factors certainly increase the risk of drug addiction in some individuals, it is certainly not unavoidable or incurable. Similar to other disorders or diseases, changes in one’s lifestyle and habits can do wonders with rehabilitation or initially avoiding addiction altogether. In addition to the biological risk factors associated with opioid drug addiction, there are many psychological factors that could potentially be just as damaging and increase someones onset risk of developing a drug addiction.

Many of these factors include stress, personality traits such as high impulsivity, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and psychiatric disorders such as personality disorder. Each of these can influence and affect a person’s likelihood of engaging in drug activity, being more likely to be exposed to these drugs, and even the extent of the impact these drugs have on their body. Of these factors, stress is one of the most significant and potentially damaging, as it often contributes to ones’ desire to initially engage in drug activity due to the rise in levels of cortisol, which is a primary stress response which increases the activity of the bodies reward system. This, in turn, encourages the individual’s desire to keep taking the drug which creates a vicious, unforgiving cycle. Another psychological factor involves an individual’s mental capacity and developmental state. This is because drug use is highly impulsive and those who engage in it do not often consider the consequences of their actions, making it highly likely that they have not fully matured developmentally and cannot control their actions according to personal values or beliefs.

According to the Cascade Behavioral healthcare Agency, “This capacity ultimately distinguishes human beings from other species. If we routinely act without thinking and instead act according to every craving, whim, or impulse, we are operating at the developmental level of a two-year-old child. Addictions like drug addiction can occur because someone lacks this developmental maturity.” (Cooper et all, 2018). Essentially, these individuals are often very self-serving and only participate in activities that result in immediate pleasure, making their probability of developing a drug addiction that much greater. Along with these potential risk factor, some of these psychological disorders or predispositions often make it extremely difficult, though not impossible, for many people to recover from a drug addiction.

This is because they often lack the motivation or belief that they can overcome these obstacles, so it is unlikely that they will put forth the effort to curb their addictive habits. Psychotherapy is one of the most beneficial programs for these individuals, as it helps treat and overcome any mental blocks or disorders that may prevent them from recovering through psychological, not medicinal means. Similar to the biological and psychological factors involved in the increased risk of opioid addiction, there are many sociological components that contribute to an individual’s specific risk factors as well. Sociological factors come as a result of a person’s culture, environment, community, family, peers, and personal experiences. Each of these are important in their own sense as they all contribute to an individual’s leanred behaviors, as well as their personal beliefs, actions, and personality traits. This is relevant because many individuals may be introduced to drugs or other negative habits which can greatly increase their chances of using drugs and developing a drug addiction. For example, if an individual is exposed to family members who engage in criminal behaviors, or misuse drugs or alcohol, it will increase that individuals risk of future drug problems.

Furthermore, if individuals are not initially exposed to these behaviors in a family setting, they could be susceptible to potential risk factors through the influence of their peers, especially if that child is having difficulties in school or has poor social skills. Even if an individual is rasied within a postive family support system, with no history of drug use, and they engage in pro-social activities with a positive group of peers, that individual can still be inadvertently exposed to an increased risk of an opioid addiction through a friend or family member. Shockingly enough, nearly 40% of all opioid addicts started by receiving some form of pain medication from a friend or family member. In an article posted by Harvard Health, MD and Master of Public Health, Monique Tello even explained, “Almost every primary care physician has seen some version of this scenario. Pill sharing among friends and family is a widespread practice. Pain-pill sharing, however, can lead to misuse, abuse, and addiction.” (Tello, M. 2018).

She goes on to explain that free pills from friends or family are the number one source of abused prescription opioids according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This problem is widely spread due to the lack of information and awareness that the general public has had on this issue in previous years. Because of this, it is extremely important that we continue to spread awareness of this rapidly growing dilemma, and make it a priority to educate people on opioid addiction the nationwide crisis. Given this insight, it is obvious that these specific sociological factors can have a potentially massive impact on an individual’s risk of forming an opioid addiction. After carefully researching the problems that come as a result of the opioid crisis in America, as well as the many biological, psychological, and sociological components of this nationwide epidemic, we can begin to see some of the factors that contribute to this widespread issue.

With access to this information, it allows us to further explore the task at hand, and begin to form new ways of alleviating and combating these problems by targeting the specific underlying causes that were mentioned. Though this epidemic has only continued to grow and become more problematic over time, I believe that pharmesutical companies, doctors, lawmakers, psychologist, and even the general public are beginning to understand what we are up against, and with the right information, tools, and dedication to addressing this issue, we will begin to see a slow but steady decline in opioid death and the many other coinciding facets of our country that have been negatively affected.

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