Opiate Abuse in the US by the Numbers

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Opiate Abuse in the US by the Numbers

Opiate Abuse in the USOpiates are derived from opium which comes from the poppy plant. Opiates are necessary for treating chronic pain such as pain related to cancer and other terminal diseases. These drugs are also used for patients following surgery or after major accidents or pain related to the back or spinal cord. Opiates go by other names such as opioids or narcotics.  In the graphic above, you can see the extent of opiate abuse in the US.

In recent years, opiate addiction has soared in the United States. For example:

  • According to government reports, the US makes up only 4% of the world’s population, yet it consumes 80% of the world’s oxycodone produced.
  • The US also consumes over 99% of the world’s supply of hydrocodone.
  • 12 million US citizens illicitly abused opiate-based prescription drugs in 2010.
  • Every day, more than 100 people die due to drug-related reasons.

These are only a few of the shocking statistics that highlight the seriousness of the situation with opiate abuse in the US. When you look at the facts regarding other consequences of drug abuse such as increased crime, child abuse and neglect, financial ruin, health problems, and much more, the scale of the problem seems almost inconceivable.

Opiate Addiction and Opiate Abuse in the US: How it Begins

Opiates act on the same receptors as heroin. Opiates not only relieve pain, but they also give the individual a feeling of euphoria and well-being. For this reason, alone, they are consumed by people on a daily basis for the sole purpose of feeling these effects.

Many individuals, no matter how well intended, try to take this medication as prescribed. But as time passes on, the person builds up a tolerance to the drug and therefore, needs more of it to produce the same effects as before. For this reason, many individuals end up with an addiction to their painkillers with no intentions, or even thoughts, of dependency.

On the other hand, many teenagers and young adults take opiates for only recreational purposes, to get high. They like the feeling of euphoria that it gives them. Many times, they don’t even know what drug they are taking. They have what is called ‘skittles parties’ where each kid raids their parents’ or their grandparents’ medicine cabinets and just take whatever prescription medication is there.

They put them all in a bowl and just pick something out and take it with no idea of what the results will be. They mistakenly think that because they are prescriptions that they cannot be dangerous. This could not be further from the truth. Unintentional overdose deaths from prescription opioids have quadrupled since 1999.

Cracking Down on Doctor Shopping and “Pill Mills.”

Many patients who had become addicted to their painkiller medication in years past started ‘doctor shopping’ which is going from one doctor to another getting prescriptions for the same drugs. Many pain clinics or “pill mills” grew up in many areas where individuals could go and just basically tell the doctors what drug they wanted, and for a great deal of money, these doctors would give them to the individuals. Many states have cracked down on that today and are trying to keep better records with a national register on narcotic and highly addictive prescription drugs. Some physicians conduct random “drug counts” to keep addicts from abusing or selling their prescription drugs.  Hopefully, these measures will help bring down the amount of opiate abuse in the US.

Heroin, the Replacement Drug

Because of this, many individuals are turning to heroin which has the same basic effects as opiates or opioids.  Heroin is much cheaper than prescription opiates and is much easier to procure. Heroin is not the drug of the slums or ghettos as people used to think.

This was reported in businessweek.com,  “Some recent studies suggest that three out of four people who are on heroin started on prescription opioids, so in some ways, it’s a single epidemic,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a July briefing for reporters.

Naloxone Can Save Lives

There is a drug being used today to counter the effects of opioid overdoses; this drug is Naloxone. It primarily works on the life-threatening symptoms of overdose such as depression of the central nervous system, respiratory depression, and hypotension secondary to opiate overdose. Naloxone is used by emergency respondents in overdose situations and also in emergency rooms where the overdose is diagnosed. This drug has saved many lives and hopefully will save much more in the years to come as opiate painkiller overdoses are not expected to fade away shortly.

The problem of opiate abuse in the US is not going away on its own, but at least we can offer effective treatment for the individuals who are struggling with this addiction.


  • addictionsandrecovery.org – Opioids: Addiction, Withdrawal and Recovery
  • businessweek.com – Whites Account for the Entire Jump in Heroin Deaths

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