The US government invests money in research on drug trends across the country. Keeping a record of how many individuals are addicted to drugs, and what percentage of drug rehabilitation intake assessments are attributable to a particular drug, helps the government make decisions regarding action and legislation in the fight against drug use. In terms of opiate abuse in the US, the numbers have shifted over the years; however, the differing subcategories of “opiates” make it difficult to pinpoint the class of drugs as a whole. It makes more sense to target the different types of opiate drugs and attribute statistics to the individual subcategories, only because illicit opiate drugs such as heroin require differing intervention strategies than prescription pill opiate drugs, such as Vicodin. One can be obtained on the streets, while the other can also grow from the administration of a legal prescription.
For the purposes of this article, opiates’ impact on the US will be evaluated on an aggregate level. For some opiate addiction basics, keep reading for more information.
Keep in mind that opiates are all derived from the seedpods of Papaver somniferum (the opium poppy plant) but the way in which the derivative is processed and synthesized contributes to the varying types of opiate drugs. The following statistics frame the overall impact of opiate abuse in the US in a measurable light:
- A user abuses injectable opiates (in the majority of cases, heroin) an average of 14 years before the user admits himself or herself into a treatment program.
- Opiates make up 83 percent of admissions for intravenous drug addictions. Second in line is methamphetamine, followed by cocaine.
- A survey conducted by the National Institute of Drug Abuse reports that a decade ago (2001), an estimated 16 million Americans ages 12 or older were using illicit drugs at the time, i.e., had ingested drugs within a month of taking the survey. Such a figure does not take into account survey responses that were untruthful (a proportion of respondents are inevitably inclined to lie about the scope of their drug use).
- Individuals who abuse drugs incur twice the costs for their employer as compared to their non-drug-using coworkers.
- The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that close to three million people in Europe and the US are addicted to some type of opiate. In the US alone, over two million people are addicted to prescription opiates.
- Probuphine is an implantable drug that has recently been introduced to the medical community as a viable treatment for opiate addiction. In a study in 2007 and 2008, 163 participants who were addicted to opioids received either the drug or a placebo alternative. At the end of the 24-week study, patients given Probuphine experienced a significant decrease in drug use as compared to the control group. The study was monitored using urine sample screening tests before and throughout the study’s duration
- Methadone, used to treat heroin addiction, is typically administered only through highly regulated clinics, in order to preclude Methadone abuse and to track progress with patients for whom the anti-opiate craving drug has been prescribed.
- Due to the nature of opiates, i.e., the way in which opioid receptors bind to the brain’s receptors responsible for feelings of contentment and well-being, prolonged opiate use compromises the brain’s ability to produce endorphins organically. Thus, an integral component of opiate addiction is physical and neurological in nature; science has proven that an opiate addict’s brain reflects differently when scanned and compared to a non-opiate user’s brain
- Gregory House, a fictitious physician on the popular FOX series House, is not too “far off” in his depiction of an opiate-addicted member of the medical community; opiate dependency is estimated to effect nearly 10 percent of modern-day medical practitioners.
- Young adults ages 12 to 17 report that the number one way in which they access opiate drugs (in this case, prescription drugs) is through family members or friends, either directly or indirectly. An indirect example is a teenager who may steal prescription pills from his mother’s medicine cabinet, unbeknownst to his mother.
- Young adults perceive prescription pills, such as opioid pain relievers, to be less dangerous than illicit drugs, primarily because they are available by legal prescription within the US. The stigma attached to drugs purchased on the black market keeps young adults thinking that they are choosing the “safe” alternative to illicit drugs when they opt for prescription drugs.
Overall, opiate addiction represents a serious issue in our society. In order to preclude addiction in the future, awareness, education and prevention measures associated with both legal and illegal opiate are essential.