The opioid epidemic: Trends & taboos

Pictured: Mac Miller — Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Opioid addiction: the systemic epidemic that threatens the nation, and that nobody wants to talk about. Mac Miller’s death on Sept. 7 brought the opiate fentanyl to the headlines, but many failed to see the larger connection to the nationwide epidemic.

Our culture has a tendency to treat celebrity overdoses as individual experiences; a culmination of the celebrity’s personal history and circumstances. Fentanyl, however, has killed tens of thousands of Americans. Miller was one of its many victims.

According to AddictionCenter.com, any form of opium is considered an “opioid.” This includes drugs like morphine, codeine, oxycodone, all of which are legal prescription drugs. However, opioids also include drugs such as heroin and illegally-produced fentanyl.

Fentanyl tends to be not as well-known, although it first gained some notoriety with the death of Prince in April 2016. It is substantially more dangerous than heroin and it has been making its way across the country with the rest of the opioid crisis. Fentanyl has become such a serious problem that CNN did an extensive investigative report on it. This report shows the far-reaching effects of fentanyl and the opioid epidemic. One of the largest dangers in fentanyl is that oftentimes users do not know they are getting fentanyl. Instead, they believe they are getting heroin. There are often cases in which cocaine is used along with fentanyl, an extremely dangerous combination. This mixture is what killed Miller.

The source of the opioid epidemic is by and large prescription drugs. AddicitonCenter.com reports that “80 [percent] of people suffering from an addiction to heroin started with a prescription for an opioid pain reliever.”

These drugs are highly addictive, causing people prescribed them for pain to become entirely reliant on the drugs. When their prescription runs out, people may seek to find the same high by going to heroin.

According to DrugAbuse.gov, the Midwest is being heavily affected by this, with an overdose increase of 70 percent in just one year. This is not an issue just affecting small towns either; cities have experienced a 54 percent increase in overdoses in recent years as well.

Washington state is by no means immune to this issue, either. In fall of 2017, both Seattle and the state of Washington sued the producers of opioids, as reported on by MedicalExpress.com. They joined dozens of other cities and states in doing this as a means to combat the crisis.

This epidemic has cost states billions of dollars. According to the Seattle Times, $34 billion has gone towards costs associated with overdose deaths in Washington state in just four years. This cost could potentially be reduced by preemptively addressing the issue and preventing addiction in the first place.

More support for people who are addicted to opioids is necessary. The response to the crisis should not be to incarcerate people who use, but rather to get them treatment. Rather than spending money on punishment, states should allocate money towards rehabilitation centers.