All across the nation, people are suffering from the effects of opioid abuse. Working-age people are living out the best years of their lives addicted to pain killers, retirees are spending their savings on drugs, and teenagers are becoming crippled by opioids before they even have a chance at life. However, knowledge is power, and the more we understand this mounting crisis, the more we can do to prevent it from spreading and hurting ourselves or the ones we love.
If you’re currently suffering from opioid addiction, there are factors emerging in the social fabric that can make you feel legitimately hopeful about tomorrow, and trends are building that could eventually stop opioid addiction at its core. To understand how things are changing for the better, we must confront the face of this type of addiction head-on. For more information on this critical subject, we turn to the example of Pennsylvania.
The Crisis in Pennsylvania
According to the Philadelphia branch of the Drug Enforcement Agency, drug deaths in Pennsylvania have increased by 64 percent in the last two years. As it stands, Pennsylvania’s current rate of drug-related deaths is 42 per 100,000 people, which is more than double the national average of 19.8 per 100,000 people. Clearly we’re in the midst of a crisis, but what’s fueling it?
Over two-thirds of the drug deaths in Pennsylvania last year were caused at least in part by fentanyl, which is a relatively new type of opioid that has ravaged the United States since its popularity began in 2015. Fentanyl is between 50 and 100 times stronger than morphine, which is the next-strongest type of opioid. More people are dying from fentanyl in Philadelphia and other parts of Pennsylvania than ever before, and there are a number of reasons why this scourge is becoming more omnipresent throughout the state.
What Is Fueling the Opioid Problem in Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania used to be one of the coal mining capitals of the world. Pennsylvanian culture has long been defined by its coal-mining community, and in decades past, this lucrative industry was capable of easily providing for the needs of a huge portion of the families in the state. However, environmental concerns and an increased dependence on foreign energy sources have crippled the Pennsylvania coal industry, which has left thousands of working-age men and women looking for jobs elsewhere.
When you’re unemployed or underemployed, you have a lot of time on your hands. It’s also much easier to become depressed when your way of life has been taken from you, and coal miners in Pennsylvania have been cut adrift in a job-deprived economic paradigm. Without the influx of coal money into local economies, other business sectors in Pennsylvania that aren’t directly related to coal have also suffered. Some of the grocery stores, retail outlets and restaurants to which coal miners used to take their paychecks have closed their doors, which has left more people suffering from a lower quality of life.
Situations of deprivation and torment are the perfect environments for opioid abuse to thrive. Some opioid users in Pennsylvania may have started with prescription opioids. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, people who use prescription opioids are more likely to start using heroin. Therefore, crossing over to street drugs is becoming more common in Pennsylvania, and this trend can have disastrous consequences.
For instance, it’s become increasingly common for bags of street heroin to be cut with fentanyl. Unlike pharmaceutical drugs, street drugs don’t have labels that indicate their ingredients and concentrations, which means that many users of illicit opioids in Pennsylvania are exposed to fentanyl without knowing it. As the recent increase in overdose deaths in Pennsylvania makes abundantly clear, the presence of fentanyl in this state’s illicit drug supply has been wreaking havoc.
Even if fentanyl weren’t present in bags of heroin, this illicit substance would still be contributing to the increase in overdose deaths. People who willingly choose to use fentanyl are at greater risk of overdose. This drug is so potent that a simple dosage miscalculation can easily cause an overdose, and a person’s ability to reason critically declines as they devolve deeper into an opiate coma.
Fentanyl is predominantly manufactured in China, but the majority of Chinese fentanyl customers are overseas. It could be argued that Chinese fentanyl manufacturers make their drugs specifically for overseas customers, and most of the fentanyl that enters the United States doesn’t arrive legally. Still, authorities in the U.S. are having a difficult time controlling the flow of the drug.
While it’s impossible to know exactly how much fentanyl passes over the U.S. border every year, one American teen was recently caught trying to smuggle over 10,000 fentanyl pills into the United States from Mexico. Once it’s in the United States, fentanyl and heroin are distributed everywhere and find themselves in states like Pennsylvania that are nowhere near the border.
In the end, the increase in overdose deaths in Pennsylvania may be attributable to the irresponsible actions of domestic drug companies. For instance, Purdue Pharma, which is the manufacturer of OxyContin, once sold the myth that this opioid is safer and less addictive than morphine. While the owners of this company are now multibillionaires, they haven’t given back any of this wealth to the communities that they have ravaged.
How Do You Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones from Opioids?
It’s understandable if the above information sounds disheartening. However, it is only by knowing our enemy that we can defeat our enemy, and people who face the opioid crisis head-on every day have started to make some headway. Before we discuss what is happening at a national level to curb this problem that plagues American communities, it’s important to point out ways that you can keep yourself or others from succumbing to this omnipresent problem.
Opioids prey on the spaces where love has failed. Put another way, if a person has a strong and supportive social network, they may not feel the need to abuse opioids. With many loving people to keep them company and keep an eye on them, individuals taking prescription opioids may not have the chance to search for dangerous ways to numb their pain.
However, some hurts run too deep to be cured with simple companionship. Those who have experienced the horrors of war take a long time to return to any sense of normalcy. In addition, victims of childhood abuse are often left with scars that refuse to heal. In these instances, professional counseling is often the best way to teach individuals methods by which they can deal with the hurt in ways that don’t harm them further.
Whether you live in Pennsylvania or elsewhere, it’s important that you seek out help immediately if you feel that you might be addicted to opioids. You can start by letting someone you care about in on your problem, or it might make more sense to seek out the services of a drug rehabilitation center immediately. Opioids can inhibit your free will, so it may be hard to seek out the help you need. In these instances, it might be necessary to undergo inpatient treatment while you detoxify and learn coping strategies for dealing with your addiction.
If someone you know or love appears to be suffering from addiction, your first step should always be to reach out with a loving hand. If they spurn your attempts to help, it may be necessary to contact addiction specialists for assistance.
What Is Being Done to Combat this Epidemic?
While opioid addiction used to be a topic that was avoided or swept under the rug, more prominent voices have begun decrying the dangers of these drugs and demanding justice. Here are just a few of the ways in which the tide of opioid abuse in America is being stemmed.
National emergency declaration
In October of 2017, the opioid crisis was declared a public health emergency. After this declaration, the White House stated its intention to work directly with state and local officials to mount a coordinated effort to stamp out opioid abuse at the community level. While this declaration has definite practical implications, it has also served as a symbol that the American people are fed up with opioid abuse and are ready to make a change.
Purdue Pharma lawsuits
For years, Purdue Pharma was permitted to operate with very few restrictions. In the last few years, a mountain of lawsuits has been levied against Purdue Pharma, and this trend is ramping up into the legal battle of the century. While the results of this legal development are yet to be seen, many people are hopeful that the developer of OxyContin will be held accountable in some way for its impact on the rising opioid epidemic.
Increased border protection
While there are plenty of domestic factors that contribute to the opioid epidemic, it can’t be denied that the majority of illicit opioids come from outside of the country. Whether they’re coming in from seaports, airports or land borders, it’s important that the nation works together to coordinate efforts against illegal imports. While no amount of security measures will hold the tide of crime back entirely, there are certainly things that can slow the flow of heroin, fentanyl and other drugs into the country.
Comprehensive youth education
Even in an environment that’s saturated with opioids, it’s possible to avoid addiction when armed with education. Experts have recently doubled down on their position that opioid education should begin as early as possible, and a greater effort has been made to inform young people about the dangers that these drugs pose to their communities. Suppliers of illicit opioids justify their trade by the increasing demand for heroin and fentanyl in the United States, and if Americans reduce this demand to a bare minimum, these criminals will have nowhere to sell their wares. Plus, the more that young people come to understand that prescription opioids aren’t panaceas that can be used with impunity, the less likely they are to become dependent on these highly potent drugs later in life.
In addition to all of these factors, something has fundamentally changed in the way that Americans view opioids. While the public mindset may have been indulgent or ambivalent to this class of drugs in the past, too many people have lost their livelihoods and lives for this facade to be maintained. As all of these trends converge, it becomes increasingly clear that the opioid epidemic in Pennsylvania will face opposition and be extinguished.