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What is the opioid epidemic & how is it impacting Americans?

The opioid epidemic in the United States impacts many Americans throughout the entire country.  Whether you refer to the situation as an an opioid epidemic or an opioid crisis, we’ll go over some of the most notable impacts this situation has on the United States.  From there, we’ll certainly discuss the affects on individuals and provide tips to help readers assist a loved on who may be misusing opioids.

Finally, as criminal defense attorneys, we’re uniquely situated to comment on the crisis sweeping the nation.  We regularly defend individuals facing drug charges.  And certainly in some of those drug charges, the individual began his or her addiction with substances like codeine, hydrocodone, Demerol, and Dilaudid.  Upon the inability to legally locate a prescription after surgery, the subject feels the need to still satisfy the addition.  This leads to a substitution of substances, or obtaining the original prescription drug by fraudulent means.  Simple possession of opioids can lead to charges for possession of a controlled substance, as opioids are frequently classified as schedule 1 drugs because of how addictive and dangerous they are.

What is the opioid epidemic?

The opioid epidemic refers to the extensive and increasing number of Americans who misuse opioids, whether they’re prescribed or not, and the associated effects of doing so.  Many people require medical care or even die from their opioid use and abuse, which certainly has significant social, economic, and legal consequences.

The opioid crisis began in the 1990s, when pharmaceutical companies reassured the medical community that patients would not become addicted to opioid pain relievers.  Doctors began regularly prescribing the drugs at greater rates.  Because of the addictive characteristics of the drugs, individuals on a widespread basis began to misuse prescription and non-prescription opioids.  Eventually it became clear that the medications were problematic.  In 2017, the United States Division of Health and Human Services declared a public health public health emergency and announced a 5-Point Strategy To Combat the Opioid Crisis.  

Every day over 130 people die from opioid-related drug overdoses.  In 2018, 10.3 million people misused prescription opioids.  The National Center for Biotechnology Information indicates that opioid misuse is the most devastating and lethal health problem since the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States.  Finally, more people die every year from overdoses than died in the entirety of the Vietnam War, the Korean War, or any armed conflict since the end of World War II.

The impact of the opioid crisis

The opioid crisis is one of the defining issues of life in the United States as we enter the ’20s.  The impact of the epidemic has an intense, widespread, and profound impact on many Americans.  Deaths and the exorbitant health care and treatment cost are just the beginning.  According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, the crisis has had the following other impacts:

  • Roughly 21-29% of individuals prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them;
  • Between 8-12% of individuals prescribed opioids develop an opioid use disorder;
  • 4-6% of individuals who misuse prescription opioids eventually transition to heroin;
  • Approximately 80% of first-time heroin users first misused prescription opioids;
  • The midwest saw opioid overdoses between June 2016 and September 2017 increase 70%;
  • Between 1999 and 2017, over 700,000 people died of drug overdoses.
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The effects of opioid use

Certainly these staggering numbers are concerning.  But while the opioid epidemic impacts our country on a large scaled, we must understand exactly how opioids impact individuals.  Individuals, after all, are at the heart of the epidemic.

Long-term effects

There are many long-term effects of opioid abuse.  Here are a few:

  • Simple opioid use can lead to addiction;
  • Excessive sleepiness is a symptom of opioid abuse.  Opioids have a sedative effect, which can cause issues with an individual’s sleep cycles.
  • Unexplained weight loss is another symptom.  Nausea and vomiting are side-effects of opiate abuse.  Along with the fatigue previously discussed, this impacts an individual’s diet.  It becomes more difficult to maintain a healthy diet.
  • Opioid-induced constipation is a common complication for individuals using opioids.  This can lead to considerable pain, blockage, and even perforation of the intestines.  Perforation is a life-threatening situation and frequently requires emergency surgery;
  • Criminal charges frequently result from possession of a controlled substance.  Sometimes individuals in the midst of an opioid addictions sell the substance they’re addicted to in order to obtain more of the substance.  This easily leads to manufacture/delivery of a controlled substance charges.  If that delivery leads to an overdose, in the very worse case scenario homicide charges result.  Frequently one of the first signs an individual is addicted to drugs, of any sort, is stealing from friends and family members.  In order to sustain an addiction, the addict must be able to purchase more drugs.  Stealing can lead to theft charges.
  • Fracturing of families.  Certainly the collateral consequences of an opioid addiction impact families.  An individual’s substance use disorder sends waves through families and communities and ignoring these ripples can cause long-lasting consequences. Children affected by familial abuse are at increased risk of similar problems themselves, and caregivers who often step in to care for these children are also likely to have increased physical and mental health needs.

How to help a loved one with opioid addiction

While there are many different things that can be used to combat this epidemic, it’s also important to understand how to help someone you know who is misusing opioids. For many people, helping a loved one recover is the most significant way you can fight the opioid epidemic.

An oxycodone bottle showing pills
Oxycodone is one of the many generic opioid pain-killers available to individuals today. Certainly this drug has contributed to the opioid epidemic.

Recognize the signs of addiction

Be on the lookout for the signs and symptoms of opioid addiction we previously disclosed.  If a family member suddenly becomes irritable, begins stealing from others, and experiences sudden sleep and behavioral issues, an addiction might be in play.

Research treatment options

Certainly broad, community-wide solutions help, but what can you do as an individual to address an opioid addiction?

  • Locate a local recovery help site.  Frequently locating substance abuse resources is made easier by local government.  Whether there are certain local facilities that provide inpatient substance abuse treatment, or if you’re simply looking for some kind of outpatient resources, certain parts of the government are trying to help.
  • Find a local treatment group, such as Narcotics Anonymous.  Frequently group counseling sessions help individuals work together with others suffering from the same addictions.  While NA is certainly a valuable resource, we suggest researching local options.  Unfortunately, sometimes group therapy sessions lead to problematic relationships with can foster relapses.
  • If you’re charged, look into drug treatment court.  Courts are liberalizing their practices and are beginning to recognize that addiction cannot be addressed by simply locking addicts up.  Avoiding felony convictions and keeping individuals out of prison, but requiring them to do treatment, is one of the main tenets of drug treatment court.

Seek professional help

It’s crucial you recognize doing this on your own is difficult.  Frequently it’s impossible.  While suffering through the beginnings stages of an addiction is already difficult, it’s even more difficult on your own.  Professionals, like therapists and counselors, can work with you and direct you in the correct manner.  It’s easy to make mistakes on your path to recovery.  These people certainly focus on avoiding that.

Do you have a job?  Contact your health insurance provider.  There, the company covering you can direct you to low-cost, affordable resources.  If you’re not employed, frequently counselors have sliding fee scales available to clients.  This allows for low-cost help while you’re getting back on your feet.

Contact a criminal defense lawyer if you, a friend, or family member is facing criminal charges

While the opioid epidemic is certainly a major public health concern, it’s incorrect that the government simply lock individuals up and hope they get better.  Some prosecutors certainly don’t see things that way.  For example, is it appropriate that a drug dealer and a drug addict who sells to fuel his addiction receive the same sentence?  Are these two individuals in the same position?  We don’t think so.  Along with those charges, many others, like theft, homicide, and finding legal assistance for driving under the influence frequently result.  And finally, remember that getting caught for possession frequently leads to much more significant charges, depending on the other circumstances.

A criminal defense lawyer helps the process.  We focus on the legal consequences of your addiction, while you focus on fixing the addiction.  The less you need to worry about, the more likely it is you begin to treat the addiction successfully.

If you face charges for any kind of a drug offense, we suggest hiring the best local criminal defense attorney you can afford.  A defense lawyer familiar with local practices will be able to help you through the process.  If you face drug charges anywhere in Wisconsin, contact Meyer Van Severen, S.C. at (414) 270-0202.