It is difficult to imagine that this statistic is even accurate at all, but apparently opioid overdose has become the leading cause of death among young people in the United States.
The first question is: Why is this happening? How have prescription opiates become so deadly?
The Times Daily says that “The rate at which physicians are prescribing opioid pain medicines needs to be addressed, and more support for mental illness treatments for the opioid addict is needed, panelists said.”
But that doesn’t tell the entire story either. Just because doctors are too quick to prescribe pain medications, and treatment options are lacking, these factors alone cannot account for such a bold statistic.
Another factor is that the other causes of death among younger people have been progressively becoming better and better. For example, automobile accidents were once a major cause of death among younger people in the United States, but cars have become so much safer over the years, so that rate of mortality has been getting lower and lower.
In the meantime, the opiate crisis has reached nearly epidemic proportions, and the rise of the information age has done much to increase the harm.
Painkillers have been around for centuries. The problem is that young people today are so much more well informed about narcotics than they were even 10 or 20 years ago.
This is mostly due to the rise of information technology, the Internet, social media, and widespread awareness about substances of abuse. 30 years ago, a teenager might not even realize that morphine could “get you high,” and therefore they would not be as prone to experiment with it. Today, teens and even kids can look a substance up online and find out immediately if it has the potential to give them a buzz or not.
So that is one huge factor–young people today are armed with all of the knowledge that they need in order to abuse the most substances possible.
The next question is: What can be done about it? How do we fix this sort of problem in a way that has a meaningful impact?
The approach must be multi-faceted in order to be effective, because the problem is big, complex, and affecting so many different areas of people’s lives.
In other words, this is not a simple problem with a simple solution. It is going to have to be approached from multiple angles in order to chip away at the problem and make incremental progress.
This will start, as mentioned in the article, with the people who are prescribing the medications. We could even take one step back from that and encourage the drug companies who research and manufacture medications to be more aggressive in releasing medications with lower abuse potential, a goal that some drug companies are actively working towards already. One believes that they are on the cusp of releasing an effective painkiller that does not produce any kind of euphoric effect, thus lowering the abuse potential drastically. Perhaps in time the entire pain relief market could be shifted to contain only medications with very low abuse potential, so this would really be more of a long term solution. The market is already flooded with strong opiates that have high abuse potential such as Vicodin, Oxycontin, and so on–reversing those trends is going to take time, even if new and safer medications suddenly appear.
The doctors themselves are not always educated about the potential of substance abuse. Newer medical programs that educate doctors typically discuss addiction, but 30 years ago they were not really training doctors to be leery of prescribing opiates or addictive drugs. It just wasn’t as visible of an issue back then, and many of those doctors are still practicing today. So this is a problem that is difficult to solve because you are essentially teaching old dogs new tricks–never an easy thing to do! People are stubborn, including doctors.
So the drug companies are researching less addictive painkiller medications, and hopefully we can somehow educate doctors to be less aggressive in treating pain that might be easily controlled using safer alternatives.
However, we need to do more obviously. Prevention efforts should be included that would begin with young teens to educate them about the destructive capacity of opiate based painkillers.
And while prevention efforts may be part of the solution at the personal level, it cannot end with just prevention. We need treatment, and we need to educate people about treatment options, and we need to let people know that help is available.
At the individual level, people need to realize that if they are stuck and struggling with an addiction to prescription medications that they can call up a treatment center and get the help that they need. We also need to reduce the stigma associated with someone who “pops pills” as well, and let people know just how common this problem has become, and that there is no shame in seeking help for addiction.
If you or someone that you know or love is struggling with painkiller addiction, then the time to act is right now. Get on the phone and call a treatment center and ask them what has to happen in order for the person to come to treatment. Often times it is easier to access this sort of help than you might believe; the problem is in getting up the courage to simply make the phone call. Everyone is scared of going to rehab at first because they do not know what to expect.
I can assure you that inpatient treatment is not a threatening or scary environment at all. Being in rehab is very safe and very easy to do, the hard part is in convincing yourself to go in the first place! But once you have arrived in rehab I can assure you that you will not feel threatened or anxious in the least. The entire place is set up to try to help you to get through the detoxification process and learn how to live a clean life again.
Once you convince yourself to go to treatment you will likely be referred to some sort of follow up care for when you eventually leave. After 28 days, everyone has to graduate back to the real world and figure out how to remain clean and sober on their own. Only you won’t really be alone in this fight, you will have the help and support of AA and NA meetings, peers in recovery, therapists, sponsors, IOP groups, and anyone else that is enlisted to help you in this fight against addiction. The key is that you have to dive into recovery and embrace these resources with real enthusiasm, as if your life depends on it. Because in the end, it certainly does. Make the most of your life by making the call to get clean and sober today. You won’t regret it! What do you have to lose by being clean and free again? Make the call today!