According to the CDC, the United States is experiencing an epidemic of drug overdose deaths. Since 2000, the rate of deaths from drug overdoses has increased 137%, including a 200% increase in the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids. For opioids that are prescribed as painkillers like oxycodone and morphine, several factors are likely to have contributed to the severity of their widespread abuse. AGRiMED is concerned with the alarming rise of these addictive treatments. They include drastic increases in the number of prescriptions written and dispensed, greater social acceptability for using medications for different purposes, and aggressive marketing by pharmaceutical companies.
The total number of pain relievers prescribed in the United States has skyrocketed in the past 25 years and opioids have gone from around 76 million in 1991 to nearly 207 million in 2013, with the United States their biggest consumer globally.
They are most dangerous and addictive when taken in ways such as snorting, injecting, or combining the pills with alcohol or other drugs to increase euphoric effects. Addiction can also be caused by the body’s tolerance for the medication increasing. When this change in the body’s central nervous system occurs, an increase in dosage of the substance will be required to meet the intended needs. Some cities and states have begun legal action against the pharmaceutical industry over the opioid epidemic, accusing several drug companies conducting misleading marketing campaigns that didn’t explain the potential dangers of addiction and overdose. When the West Virginia attorney general sued Purdue Pharma in 2001 for creating a “public nuisance” because of its marketing and distribution of OxyContin, the case settled for $10 million three years later.
Non-painkiller opioid drugs such as codeine and heroin have also grown in production, addiction, and abuse. Last year in Philadelphia, at least nine people died from heroin overdoses in Philadelphia over one December weekend, according to police. Drug overdose deaths involving heroin continue to climb, with heroin overdoses more than tripling in 4 years. The increased availability of heroin, combined with its relatively low price and high purity appear to be major drivers of the upward trend in heroin use and overdose. Along with the trend in heroin, there is a fast growing follow-up in some communities called fentanyl, used in elephant tranquilizer. Fentanyl supersedes other opioids in risk and has been appearing up in drug seizures across the country.
The reason these tragic instances are titled an epidemic is the lack of solutions currently available. The Scripps Research Institute in California has been working on a heroin vaccine for the past eight years. The vaccine trains the immune system to produce antibodies that neutralize heroin molecules entering the brain. It is durable and effective over a period of at least eight months. Scripps researchers also believe it can help addicts deal with their cravings. Eventually, after clinical trials, the vaccine may become available and they wish to expand its use to fentanyl and other drugs. An option possible to help addicts immediately depending on location is to use medical cannabis. There are more and more accounts of people suffering from chronic pain and other ailments significantly reducing their opioid use when taking medical cannabis. “I don’t think it’s a cure for everybody,” said Maine Rep. Diane Russell, a Portland Democrat and a leader in the state effort to legalize marijuana. “But why take a solution off the table when people are telling us and physicians are telling us that it’s working?” Since there is currently no concrete direction for the country in reversing the epidemic, innovators in both medicine and politics should be working together to add more solutions.
AGRiMED creates state-of-the-art medical cannabis products that can be used effectively to manage pain for some patients. Speak with your doctor to see if medical cannabis is a good alternative or can be used to supplement your current pain management needs.
Chang, David. “Could Marijuana Help Treat Painkiller and Heroin Addiction?” CBS News. CBS Interactive, 26 Apr. 2016. Web. 16 June 2017.
Dennis, Brady. “Opioids Are among the Most-prescribed Drugs.” The Washington Post. WP Company, 14 Apr. 2014. Web. 16 June 2017.
Katz, Josh. “Drug Deaths in America Are Rising Faster Than Ever.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 05 June 2017. Web. 16 June 2017.
N.a. “Increases in Drug and Opioid Overdose Deaths — United States, 2000–2014.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 01 Jan. 2016. Web. 16 June 2017.
Rubin, Julia. “This Heroin Vaccine Might Be the Answer to the Opioid Epidemic.” Green Rush Daily. Green Rush Daily, 16 June 2017. Web. 16 June 2017.
Semuels, Alana. “Are Pharmaceutical Companies to Blame for the Opioid Epidemic?” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 02 June 2017. Web. 16 June 2017.
Volkow, Nora D. “America’s Addiction to Opioids: Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse.” NIDA, 14 May 2014. Web. 16 June 2017.