The opioid crisis in the United States is getting worse every year with related deaths doubling in the last decade and four times more than in 2001. While deaths have increased significantly so have the costs of dealing with the opioid crisis across the nation. According to a paper published by the White House in November 2017, the cost of the opioid epidemic reached an unprecedented $504 billion in 2015. This estimate is six times larger than the original estimate and is 2.8 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) of the U.S. for 2015. These statistics are very troubling.
Nationally, opioid related deaths are increasing at alarming rates. The following statistics from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) show what is happening across the nation, and especially in the eastern half of the United States. Of the states reporting, these states have the highest increases in synthetic opioid related deaths from 2014 to 2015:
|STATE||2014 DEATHS||2015 DEATHS||PERCENT OF INCREASE|
The CDC also reports that more than six out of ten drug overdose deaths involved an opioid in 2015, and that “Deaths from prescription opioids—drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone—have more than quadrupled since 1999.”
Locally, the Southeastern United States is taking center stage with the number of deaths increasing dramatically and the number of prescriptions alarmingly high. Alabama has the highest prescribing rate in the nation with 121 prescriptions per 100 US residents. Mississippi accounts for 105.6 prescriptions per 100 residents, Georgia 77.8 per 100, and Florida 66.6 per 100. The prescription rate in the nation is unprecedented in history. In addition, from 2014 to 2015, Florida opioid related deaths rose by 22.7%, Mississippi by 6%, Georgia by 6.7%, and Alabama by 3.3% (CDC).
Side Effects of Prescription Opioid Use
Although prescription opioids can help with pain, there are many side effects that increase the risk of taking them for pain:
- Drug Tolerance. Opioids produce an effect in the body where more is needed to create the same level of pain relief over time.
- Drug Dependence. If the drug is stopped patients suffer withdrawal symptoms which shows drug addiction was present.
- Increased Pain Sensitivity. Using opioids may actually increase a patient’s sensitivity to pain, causing a vicious cycle of needing more pain relief.
- Constipation. Opioids frequently cause constipation which creates a need for other measures and the use of laxatives to combat the constipation. Recurring constipation can lead to other health problems and a life-threatening condition called impaction where the bowel is unable to move.
Other side effects include excessive sleepiness, dizziness, confusion, nausea, vomiting, dry mouth, depression, decreased testosterone levels, itching, and sweating.
The cost of the opioid crisis purported by the White House includes both costs for those living with opioid addiction and the cost of the loss of life and the resulting cost to families and society as a result of these deaths. Some of these costs include healthcare costs since opioid abusers “utilize significantly more healthcare resources than non-addicted peers,” (The Underestimated Cost of the Opioid Crisis, Nov, 2017). In addition, costs come from lost earnings, especially as related to time lost from work due to illness, incarceration, and death over an expected lifetime. Other costs include:
- Recovery programs
- Criminal justice costs due to arrests, incarceration, trials, public attorneys, and all costs related to criminal justice
- Caring for the families of the deceased who may fall into poverty needing to access government programs such as food stamps and free meals at school, as well as other programs
- Care of infants born with opioid addiction
- Care of children who die or are found unconscious due to ingestion of opioids found in their houses and elsewhere
- Increased spread of infectious diseases including HIV and hepatitis C
The human cost of opioid addiction, overdose, and death is alarming, especially since most opioid related deaths occur between the ages of 25 and 55 years old. In addition, the above mentioned study reported that deaths are actually under-reported and in reality, are up to 24% higher than officially documented. Human cost not only relates to the workforce and contributing members of society, but even more importantly the impact to children and families, both monetarily and emotionally. Parents are incarcerated and dying at alarming rates leaving broken families, grieving spouses and children, poverty, and a host of emotional difficulties related to these issues including future need for depression and anxiety counseling and other services.
Reasons for the Crisis
Obvious reasons for the crisis include the highly addictive nature of opioids and the number of overlapping or continued prescriptions being given. However, drug companies may also be a major contributor to the crisis. According to a December 2017 article in the Washington Post, the DEA had evidence already in 2014 against major infractions by one of the largest pharmaceutical drug companies in the US, McKesson Corp. According to the report, “investigators said they could show that the company had failed to report suspicious orders involving millions of highly addictive painkillers sent to drugstores from Sacramento, Calif., to Lakeland, Fla. Some of those went to corrupt pharmacies that supplied drug rings.” Unfortunately, a deal was struck earlier this year with McKesson and the Government agreed not to pursue charges. This information is disturbing in light of the monetary and human cost of the opioid crisis in the United States.
For more information on this topic contact Taylor Martino Rowan at (800) 256-7728 or locally at (251) 433-3131.