(NEW ORLEANS) — America’s struggle with heroin and prescription painkillers continues to gain widespread attention due to its tremendous and growing effects. The problem also continues to grow in the New Orleans area with 2016 being the first year that drug related deaths exceeded murders.
“Drug-related deaths totaled 211 last year,” wrote Jed Lipinski from NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune, “more than double the 92 drug-related deaths reported in 2015 and eclipsing the 2016 murder tally of 175. Opioids were discovered in 166 of the fatal overdoses in 2016, or 78 percent, more than twice the 2015 total of 81.”
According to The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, nationwide drug overdoses in 2015 resulted in more deaths than the HIV/AID peak of 1995, car crashes from 2015 and gun deaths from 2015.
The main question at hand continues to be what is fueling this horrible problem that continues to spread like wildfire.
According to many doctors and medical websites, the opioids that are introduced to a person help ease the pain of something, usually physical pain. Eventually, the patient becomes addicted to this as a way of feeling no to little pain. According to the CDC, many of the opioids that people die from are prescribed.
However, eventually the patient wants to experience more of this “no pain” feeling, so they eventually move onto harder and cheaper drugs, like heroin. However, fentanyl is also beginning to play a larger role in this.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent. It is a schedule II prescription drug, and it is typically used to treat patients with severe pain or to manage pain after surgery. It is also sometimes used to treat patients with chronic pain who are physically tolerant to other opioids.”
Fentanyl is also more potent compared to basic street heroin.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens, painkillers can effect the same areas of the brain as heroin and if someone eventually runs out of that painkiller, they could move on to other sources. Patients who take OxyContin and/or Vicodin, have a higher risk, however, of entering an addiction.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN Medical Correspondent, believes that most of the blame rests on the shoulders of doctors prescribing them.
“Most of the blame, however, belongs on the shoulders of the American doctors themselves,” Gupta wrote in a CNN column.“I am a practicing neurosurgeon, and this is not an easy thing to acknowledge. The fact is, we have accepted the tall tales and pollyannaish promises of what these medications could do for too long. As a community, we weren’t skeptical enough. We didn’t ask enough questions. We accepted flimsy scientific data as gospel and preached it to our patients in a chamber that echoed loudly for decades.”
Unfortunately, because the doctors prescribe painkillers so often, patients and opioid use go up in a staggering way.
“As of 2011,” Gupta wrote, “75% of the world’s opioid prescription drugs are prescribed and swallowed up in a country that makes up less than 5% of the world’s population, leading to the most common cause of unintentional death in America today: drug overdoses. It is a horrifying and shameful statistic.”
This opioid problem is leading to a new problem, known as “drugged” driving.
The NIDA website states, “According to the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 10 million people aged 12 or older reported driving under the influence of illicit drugs during the year prior to being surveyed.”
According to a newly released report by the Governors Highway Association and the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, illegal or prescription drugs were present in 43 percent of drivers of fatal crashes in 2015, compared to 37 percent who tested positive for alcohol.
Many painkiller makers continue to attempt to help stop this epidemic by changing their medicines and making it harder for users to crush, or change the substance. In addition, both federal and state lawmakers are attempting to address the issue. However, the main question continues to linger, will it be enough?