Opioid pills bottles scattered aboutNot all illicit substances are street drugs that are created and sold on a black market. One particularly unsettling truth about the state of addiction in America today is that one of the largest drivers behind the scope and rise of addiction rates is actually distributed by our own medical industry. We are talking, of course, about prescription opioids. In order to tackle addiction, as a sociological issue, every step must take into consideration the widespread abuse of prescription drugs, first and foremost.


The opioid epidemic


The sheer impact that prescription opioids have had on our country is astounding. Currently, there are over 2 million people in the United States with a dependency to types of prescription opioids. Most of these addicts were originally prescribed opioid pain relievers by a medical professional. This has led to the rise of an opioid problem that would be aptly described as an epidemic. Not only is this issue merely domestic, either. As many as 36 million people around the world are also dependent on prescription opioids.


It is easy to track how this correlates back to how many prescription opioids are sold by pharmaceutical companies. Unsurprisingly, there is a strong correlation between the number of opioids sold and the number of people addiction to them, as well as to the overdose rate. In 1991, roughly 76 million opioids were sold in the United States. Today, that number is over 207 million. At the same time, since 1999, the accidental overdose rate has quadrupled, due to prescription opioids. Prescription opioids have also worked as a sort of pipeline that has gotten people into heroin, as well, which is both cheaper, stronger, and more dangerous. Today, there are nearly 500,000 addicted heroin users in the United States, a number that has grown in conjunction with the number prescription opioids sold.


How opioids affect users


Opioids have a powerful chemical effect on the brain, where the prescription drug will attach itself to opioid receptors, a type of protein. Once attached, these drugs numb pain and discomfort, and cause the brain to overproduce chemicals that create pleasure, such as dopamine. This is what makes opioids such a powerful pain reliever (and they actually do have medical applications). While this makes the user feel a sense of euphoria, it can also stunt the brain’s ability to produce dopamine on its own, which is why it is easy to build a dependency to opioids.


Physically, opioids will cause its users to experience a feeling of nausea, and will also contribute to a lack of energy and drowsiness. Vomiting, diarrhea, and other digestive issues are common, when overusing prescription opioids.