The poppy plant, the base of opioids, has made a transition from being a once-sacred medicinal plant to descending into a taboo back alley street drug, into now being one of the most widely prescribed medications on the planet. Big Pharma has successfully transformed opioids into one of the highest grossing industries in history. The saga of the poppy plant traces back to the ancient times of Mesopotamia.
The History of Opium and America
Ever described as a magic plant with healing powers, the poppy would travel through time, bringing with it a long line of abuse and addiction in its wake. In the last century, the opioid epidemic has skyrocketed due to the manufacturing and taxation from the government and Big Pharma. With the close of the civil war, thousands of civilians in America were introduced to morphine, the most widely used painkiller during the time. It was readily available, and while users knew there was an addictive quality to the drug, it was commonly sold over the counter. Morphine and heroin were used as cough suppressants, sleep aids, muscle relaxers, and stress reducers. However, users and doctors slowly started to notice just how addictive the plant became, and users realized the enhanced power when injected through an IV. With a rise of heroin usage by musicians and the “party scene,” the government deemed heroin illegal in the 1920’s. Opium derivatives quickly became black market products and were to be in the realm of criminal and slums.
After the second World War, doctors needed alternatives to the treatment of pain in returning soldiers and started using “nerve-block clinics” where opioid use was accepted. In the 90’s, the focus on pain management saw a heavy shift back to opioid use, and in 1994, research began on OxyContin. According to a study by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, the number of OxyContin prescriptions exploded by the millions every year, reaching over 203 million in 2013.
Death and the Economy
With over 250 million users in the U.S. alone, Big Pharma profits have made history as becoming one of the highest earning industries on the planet. While each company grosses more than $10 billion on opioid sales annually, Americans everywhere are facing higher levels of abuse, addiction, and death. In 2010 alone (and the numbers are definitely higher now) the overdose rate in America was around 16,650 per year.
While those of us who have been battling opiate addiction for some time now understand the severity of the situation, it seems that Big Pharma companies are turning a blind eye to the danger of the opioid epidemic. With the endless amounts of revenue pouring in, they have not yet owned up to the obvious dangers of the medications they are mass producing or the inevitable transition to street-sold heroin.
What Gets Users Started?
First things first, as we have clearly stated, opioids are among the top-prescribed pain medication in the country. That being said, the discussion about where and why they are being prescribed so frequently doesn’t necessarily make the case any better. For example, Percocet and Vicodin are the two most prescribed meds for teens who get their wisdom teeth removed. These medications, once reserved for soldiers injured in war or terminal cancer patients, has now become the norm to give to children.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, statistics show that adults over the age of 40 are more likely to use prescription opioids, and an estimated 14.4% of pregnant women are given opioids during their pregnancy.
From Opiates to Heroin
What may have originally seemed an impossible idea has become today’s norm – Americans of all ages are becoming more and more reliant on the effects of prescription pain medication. We have created a nation reliant on painkillers, a nation of addicts. Despite the blatant side effects, many people are under the impression that if they are taking their prescribed opiate, they are not qualified as addicted, simply because they get theirs from a doctor, rather than a drug dealer. However, Heroin and OxyContin, for example, differ by only one or two molecules. This has, in turn, created a bridge for prescribed opioid users to enter into a world they never thought they would be a part of.
The crackdown on the availability of OxyContin and other prescriptions meds have pushed many patients into a corner where they must pay higher prices, suffer the withdrawal from their medication, or find another alternative. When the price of the pills became too high and too hard to get, hundreds upon thousands of people of all ages had been slowly making the switch to heroin. Obviously, this was never the intention, but the cheap price and easy accessibility made it a no brainer for many prescription users who had no other option. This upswing in heroin use has launched it into being one of the most widely used drugs in the country.
Shockingly, the bridge from opiate use to heroin has infiltrated into social groups that no one ever saw coming. The influx has now been taking place among middle-aged housewives and young adults from age 14 to 21, not just your typical conception of a back alley drug addict.
What’s Left To Do?
Primarily, the laws need to be restricted on Big Pharma. It’s obvious the income is being funneled into government lobbying and the result is little to no serious eradication of the problem. We as a nation are on a ledge between being aware and accepting of our impending nation of addicts, and wanting to fight for and provide a bright future for our children. What is it going to take for the government and the pharmaceutical companies to put the lives of the citizens over the income we provide them?
Getting Help At Wayside House
If you are a woman struggling with addiction, Wayside House can help. We offer a women-only program and provide a safe, supportive environment to recover in. We have outstanding treatments and therapies that are often only found in more expensive programs. We offer a 90-day inpatient rehab with relapse prevention education, outpatient, and aftercare. Contact Wayside House at 800-655-0817 to learn more.