Monday, June 24, 2019

America’s Opioid Epidemic: Recent Studies and Reports

Opioid Research

Due to over-prescription, misinformation, and availability of prescription painkillers, the United States has developed an opioid epidemic. The problem has grown so severe that the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has labelled it a public health emergency.

Statistics surrounding opioid use disorders are bleak. Over 11.4 million Americans reported misusing their prescription opioid medications in 2017. These drugs are responsible for 68% of overdose deaths – on average, 130 people die of opioid misuse every day. In order to address this issue, it’s important to first understand how we got to this point.

About the U.S. Opioid Epidemic

Beginning in the 1990s, pharmaceutical companies began reassuring physicians that opioid painkillers were non-addictive in a clinical setting. Based on this misinformation, doctors began prescribing these medications for all types of pain, even though there was no substantial evidence that opioids were effective or warranted in these applications.

More and more scripts were written, eventually leading to a vast majority (86%) of opioid-using patients taking their pills for non-cancer treatment. Because there was no real oversight for opioid use, the process of diversion – transferring medicines to those without prescriptions – became rampant. Eventually, guidelines were put in place to restrict the prescription of these medications, which were met with an unexpected set of consequences.

The second wave of America’s opioid epidemic began in 2010, when prescription medications became less accessible. In response to this development, addicts switched to heroin, which was cheaper, more available, and similar in effect. Deaths attributable to heroin increased by 286% between the years of 2002 and 2013, and 80% of heroin users reported misusing prescription opioids before turning to heroin. For a time, it seemed that heroin would be the primary concern of public health officials.

The third wave of the epidemic began in 2013, as synthetic opioids began causing a swift increase in overdose deaths. This likely occurred due to illicitly manufactured fentanyl – cheap, unregulated, and dangerously potent – being used to replace other substances. In 2016, there were over 20,000 recorded deaths related to fentanyl and other synthetic or semi-synthetic opioids.

Today, America still battles prescription drug abuse. We’ve collected some recent news on the subject below for your consideration.

Opioids from Hospital Associated with Long-Term Use

Nearly half of patients admitted to the hospital are given opioids for pain management, even when it’s not expressly necessary. In fact, research indicates that over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen and acetaminophen may be just as effective in post-operative care.

A new study published last Tuesday has found that people given opioids for the first time in a hospital setting are twice as likely to continue taking them for months after discharge.

By analyzing the electronic health records of over 148,000 patients, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh discovered that non-opioid painkillers were rarely tried first – this was only seen in 8% of cases. Instead, 48% of patients received opioid prescriptions while at the hospital, and 6% of them were still taking these medications in the three months after discharge. All of these patients were considered “first-timers” or “opioid-naïve,” meaning that they had not been prescribed opioids before.

Julie Donahue, professor of health policy and lead author of the retrospective analysis, explained that her team “identified several practices – low use of non-opioid painkillers, continuous use of opioids while hospitalized, opioid use shortly before discharge – which may be opportunities to reduce risk of outpatient opioid use.”

Rising Millennial Drug ODs, Suicide Rates

Deaths attributable to drugs, alcohol, and suicide are often labelled “deaths of despair.” Unfortunately, a recent report shows that these untimely ends are on the rise in millennials: Gen-Y young adults who are currently between the ages of 18 and 34.

Public health groups The Trust for America’s Health and Well Being Trust issued a report last week showing that millennials are more affected than older generations by each of these causes of death:

  • In 2017, there were nearly 31 overdose deaths for every 100,000 millennials (compared to 23 per 100,000 across all age groups).
  • Alcohol-induced death rates have doubled for millennials between 1999 and 2007.
  • Young adult suicide rates increased by 35% between 2007 and 2017, compared to 14% for 35-54-year-olds, 24% for 55-74-year-olds, and 14% for those older than 75.


“This is a call to action,” said Benjamin Miller, chief strategy officer for Well Being Trust, a national foundation for mental health. “It’s unacceptable for us to continue to lose as many lives as we are losing to preventable causes. The opioid epidemic cannot be overlooked as a contributing factor.”

Millennial opioid overdose deaths increased by more than 500% between 1999 and 2017, and those attributable to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl have skyrocketed by 6,000%.

To help decrease these deaths of despair, the report recommends taking action in the following ways:

  • Make mental health care, including screenings for depression and substance use, a routine part of primary care.
  • Improve insurance coverage for substance use disorder treatment.
  • Offer suicide prevention programs throughout the healthcare system.
  • Ensure hospitals connect patients in crisis with appropriate behavioral health services.


Opioid Treatment is Available. Recovery is Possible.

Pine Grove offers an acute, medically-supervised detox program for those suffering from opioid addiction. Upon completion, a variety of tailored treatment options are available, including gender- and age-specific programs.

By combining medical oversight with proven psychological methods, we ensure that you are well-equipped for lasting recovery. Pine Grove is the largest drug and alcohol treatment center for psychological and addictive diseases. If you’d like to learn more, call 1-888-574-HOPE today.