By TRAVIS BRAASCH
Drug addiction, specifically opioid addiction, has skyrocketed in America since the early ’90s. Opiates have been prescribed for various ailments for hundreds of years.
In the early 1990s, a number of women became addicted to opium derivatives given to combat the effects of menstruation.
The recent surge of opiate addiction comes from legislative decisions about control of these powerful drugs.
Painkillers such as Vicodin and Percocet were heavily prescribed to people who suffered from chronic pain or those recovering from a surgical procedure.
While painkillers are necessary for unbearable pain, carelessness on the part of doctors led them to over-prescribe drugs to unknowing patients.
There were several legal rulings between the late ’90s and early 2000s that held doctors accountable for knowingly selling opiates to make massive profits.
The businesses these doctors operated became known as “pain clinics” because it was widely known among drug users on the street that they could go in, pay a doctor’s fee and walk out a few minutes later with a bottle of opiates.
More than 5 million people abused prescription painkillers in the United States in 2010 alone, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
The government responded by shutting down pain clinics and sending some of the illegitimate doctors to jail.
The feds also required a doctor’s signature every time a patient needed a refill, making it harder for those addicted to continue obtaining pills. While a good idea in theory, this has actually caused a tremendous backlash by pushing addicts to other drugs, namely heroin.
Heroin and other opiates cause similar reactions, but heroin is a gamble for the user because it is very concentrated and the strength is unregulated.
In addition, heroin is cheaper than pills and leads to a higher number of deaths from overdoses. Because heroin requires intravenous injection, a staggering number of users contract HIV.
The stigma of addiction comes from the earliest stereotypes of drug addicts who were often depicted as black males and grouped with rapists and murderers.
It still seems we have the idea that drug users are degenerates that no one needs to care about. Recently, however, people have begun noticing the problem.
While there are clinics and programs available in the United States, we fall short of European countries’ treatment of addiction. It is ironic that we as a nation tend to turn the other way when people develop a drug problem and are in true need of help. Drug addiction harms not only users but also their families and our healthcare system as a whole.
Earlier this year, Democratic and Republican senators worked to craft a bill that would have added $600 million in funding for treatment centers. It also would have provided grants for preventive education programs, more needle-exchange clinics and wider production of naloxone, a drug used as an antidote for overdoses.
However, Senate Republicans blocked the bill’s passage in March.
In response, President Barack Obama announced his administration will give top priority to addressing the opioid epidemic.
He proposed a $1.1 billion bill to help fund preventative education, treatment for addicts and fighting the war against heroin being smuggled into the United States.
Ignoring the problem for the past 100 years has not made the problem go away. Drug use continues to rise in the United States and there are simply not enough resources available to help with the problem.
The Affordable Care Act has given many people new opportunities to seek medical help for drug addiction through health insurance. But we have a long way to go to fix the drug crisis in America.
Politicians are beginning to notice the problem, but let’s hope that awareness will spur more government action that can help put a stop to the epidemic.
Braasch is a reporter concerned with the growing number of deaths and diseases spread from intravenous drug use.