Opined use is on the rise and approximately no one is surprised by that; the public interest and demand for heroin and prescription drugs like Oxycontin has been growing for years now. Why exactly the demand started to skyrocket is anyone’s guess; the opioid-fueled deaths of celebrities like Heath Ledger, Cory Monteith and Philip Seymour Hoffman might not have helped matters. In any case, more and more doctors have been prescribing the prescription drugs and street demand is growing, too.
The Drastic Rise in Opioids
According to one study described on Forbes’ website, in 2000, about half of all pain-related doctors’ visits were treated with some kind of medication and that rate was pretty much the same in 2010. But “what did change over those 10 years…was the number of people treated with non-opioid drugs versus opioid drugs: While non-opioid painkiller prescriptions stayed at about 26-29%, opioid prescriptions almost doubled from 11% to 20% over these 10 years.”
Opioids are sketchy because they’re super-addictive (obviously) and (obviously) more and more people have been dying due to overdose. And that’s a lot of people; by 2008, the yearly amount of deadly drug deaths surpassed the number of motor vehicle deaths and “overdose deaths attributable to prescription drugs exceeded those of cocaine and heroin combined.”
North Carolina Taking Action
Now officials in Orange County, North Carolina are understandably freaking out after seeing a huge local increase in accidental poisoning overdoses due to prescription opioids instead of heroin. In 2009-2012, the Orange County Health Department experienced, on average, 10 opioid overdose deaths per year. Compare that to 10 short years ago when there were only about six deaths per year. Yikes, right? And it gets worse: “Across North Carolina, there has been a more than 300 percent increase in opioid overdose deaths since 1999.”
So, as of 2013, Orange County has started treating overdoses with naloxone, which can actually reverse an overdose caused by opioids. In North Carolina, naloxone can also be prescribed to people who are just considered “at risk” for addiction. The medication was just approved (very quickly!) by the FDA last week, so look for more and more states to start turning to the safe, effective drug to help fight the ever-climbing overdose rate.
Orange County’s Good Samaritan law seems like a step in the right direction, too—it allows people to have immunity from criminal prosecution if they only possess a small amount of heroin while they’re looking for help for a drug-related overdose.
So while the overall rise in opioid overdoses is, of course, patently horrible in every way, it’s admittedly pretty cool to see communities like Orange County’s come together to devise and implement treatment strategies that don’t demonize or ostracize addicts.