We love it when we can wrap up the week on a positive note. The opioid epidemic has touched countless lives here in the U.S., but there is hope that some changes coming down the pipeline could save lives. We also have an update on a topic we covered last week. It turns out we aren’t alone in thinking that gastric bypass for 12-year-olds is a terrible idea. Phew – we aren’t crazy. But first, let’s talk about saving lives and the highly stigmatized opioid epidemic. Let’s dive in.
Hope On The Horizon
The opioid epidemic in the U.S. is a tragedy that does not seem to get the coverage it deserves. Maybe it is because of the stigma associated with addiction, but regardless, it is an important story to tell.
In the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies reassured the medical community that opioid pain relievers were non-addictive. Taking them at their word, healthcare providers began to prescribe these pain drugs at greater rates.
Increased prescription of opioid medications led to widespread misuse, and by 2017, The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency.
That’s right. In just two decades, we went from opioids being safe, effective, and non-addictive to a full-blown public health emergency. Fast forward to the present day, and over 1.6 million Americans have had an opioid use disorder in the past year.
And this is where things get really tragic. Based on recent statistics from 2019, over 70,000 Americans have died from a drug overdose in a single year, with nearly 75% of those overdose deaths involving an opioid. And those statistics have only gotten worse through the pandemic and since fentanyl has become so prevalent.
According to 2020 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of opioid overdoses has quintupled (5X) since 1999. A part of the reason things have spiraled out of control has been the introduction of synthetic fentanyl into the black market. Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, making it an incredibly potent drug that can be fatal at minimal doses.
But there is a glimmer of hope for something to help us turn these trends around. Narcan is a nasal spray that treats opioid overdoses in adults and children by temporarily reversing the effects. While this isn’t a perfect overdose antidote, Narcan saves lives by buying someone who is going through an overdose valuable time until they can get emergency medical treatment and intervention.
Within months, it is expected that Narcan will become available over the counter, making the life-saving treatment more readily accessible to recovering addicts and anyone with opioid use disorder. While this isn’t the magic silver bullet that ends the opioid epidemic overnight, it is a powerful tool that will undoubtedly save lives.
The key takeaway? Fighting addiction is an incredibly complex problem to solve, especially when it comes to something as widespread and addictive as opioids. Is over-the-counter Narcan going to solve the problem on its own? No, but it is a helpful tool that should buy us some time and save lives while we focus on fixing the underlying issues that have got us to this point in the first place.
It is a small glimmer of hope, but it is a glimmer of hope nonetheless.