Understanding the severity of the opioid epidemic

Some Pennsylvania residents may wonder if the opioid epidemic is really as severe as they hear it is. It is important to understand what opioids are and why the epidemic is serious. 

In order for people to understand the opioid epidemic, they first need to understand what opioids are. MedlinePlus says that these are a particular kind of drug that is most often used to alleviate pain. If people undergo surgery or incur a severe injury, doctors sometimes prescribe this medication. While opioids can help people manage their pain, some people may become dependent on these medications if they use them for too long, and this dependence may lead to an addiction.

The number of people across the country who have become addicted to opioids may surprise some people. According to CNN, in 2016 heroin was used by roughly 948,000 people over the age of 12 and prescription medications were misused by roughly 11.5 million people in the same age range. These drugs have proved fatal for many. An opioid overdose caused the deaths of more than 63,600 people in 2016 and heroin was responsible for the deaths of 13,219 people.

The opioid epidemic includes the use of fentanyl, heroin and other illegal substances, as well as prescription painkillers. These prescription medications include oxycodone and morphine. People may become addicted to these medications because of the effect they have on the brain. Sometimes people experience a state of euphoria when they take these drugs because opioids can increase the amount of dopamine in the brain. Additionally, when people become addicted to pain medications, they may begin using illegal drugs. This is because it can be cheaper to purchase drugs such as heroin.