Understanding the problem is the first step to fixing it.
How much do you know about the opioid epidemic that has swept the nation? We can’t solve the problem if we don’t truly understand it. Learn more about the myths and truths of opioid use disorder, which claims one American life every 13 minutes.1
Myth 1: All the attention on opioid use is just hype. People dying from drug overdoses isn’t new.
Truth: People have been dying of drug overdoses for too long, but this is different. What makes the opioid crisis an epidemic is the widespread use2 and growing rate of death3 from these prescription medications. An estimated 4.5 million people have developed an addiction to opioids. Forty percent of all opioid overdose deaths4 involve prescription drugs. The impacts on people with opioid use disorder, their friends, families, communities and employers are significant. The misuse of opioids is costing businesses an estimated $25.5 billion per year.5 It costs the justice system $7.7 billion per year6.
Myth 2: My doctor prescribed this opioid, so it must be safe.
Truth: Under certain circumstances, opioids are the right choice. But they are among the most-used addictive drugs7. Others in that category include benzodiazepines, sleep aids and barbiturates. Some opioids are so potent that people can become addicted within a few days of taking them as prescribed.
Myth 3: Opioid abuse is a problem only in big cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
Truth: Opioid use disorder is a problem in big cities. But it’s also a big problem in medium cities, small cities, towns, villages, suburbs and rural areas.
In 2016, states that are considered more rural had the highest rates of drug overdose deaths8. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the highest rates of overdose deaths (per 100,000 people) were:
- West Virginia, 52
- Ohio, 39.1
- New Hampshire, 39
- Pennsylvania, 37.9
- Kentucky, 33.5
In addition, these states — more than half the country — experienced statistically significant increases in deaths from overdoses from 2015 to 2016: Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
Myth 4: People addicted to opioids live in a different world. It could never affect me or someone I know.
Truth: Opioids are killing people from every region of the country. Deaths occur in every age group, every income level and every ethnicity.
In 2016, 67 percent of those who died from an opioid overdose in the U.S. were male, and 33 percent were female. Eighty percent of those who died were white. Ten percent were black, and eight percent were Hispanic.9
West Virginia is the state with the highest death rate from opioids. Of those who died in 2016 of overdose, the age breakdown, which is similar to other states’ experience, was10:
- Six percent were under 24 years old.
- 25 percent were 25-34.
- 30 percent were 35-44.
- 24 percent were 45-54.
- 15 percent were 55 and over.
Use of heroin is increasing at a faster rate11 for those who make $20,000 to $49,999 than those who make under $20,000. People often progress to heroin after prescription opioids.12
Myth 5: People who are addicted to opioids need to show more willpower to stop using them. It’s as simple as that.
Truth: Opioid use disorder is a chronic condition. Willpower cannot cure it, just as willpower cannot cure diabetes or asthma.
One of the biggest challenges for those living with opioid use disorder is that their bodies have become dependent on opioids to function and feel “normal.” They have reached a point where not having the opioid will cause great physical pain.
As the disorder grows stronger, it can change the brain’s ability to reason and think. That makes it even harder for people to overcome opioid use disorder.