Drug addiction is an ever present problem within the United States. The most recent subjects of alarm are opiates. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, opiates relieve pain by “reducing the intensity of pain signals reaching the brain and affecting those brain areas controlling emotion, which diminishes the effects of a painful stimulus”. Opiates come in various forms, including heroin, Vicodin, OxyContin, and Percocet. Opiates are common, household names in the United States, and at first glance appear mild and harmless. Because of this, opiates are especially dangerous and easy to abuse.
Overdose rates for opiates have skyrocketed in the past decade. The American Society of Addiction Medicine concluded that the “overdose death rate in 2008 was nearly four times the 1999 rate.” In 2014 alone, the ASAM reported about 30,000 deaths related to heroin and painkillers. Opioid addiction is an ever present concern, yet little is being done to combat it. In fact, pharmaceutical companies attempt to diminish the growing concern. The Associated Press recently reported that the Washington state medical board allowed drugmakers to “send doctors a book on opioid prescribing produced by the Federation of State Medical Boards, a group that has received some funding from pharmaceutical companies”. The book encouraged the use of opiates and proposed even more lax guidelines to boost prescription rates.
In 2010, when legislators tried to regulate such rates in Washington, drugmakers immediately attempted to fight them by using lobbyists to gain congressional influence. Despite this, the regulations passed. According to the Associated Press, “the state has seen a slower increase in overdose deaths than nearly all others since the policy was implemented.”
The success in Washington marks significant progress towards addressing the opioid epidemic, but it cannot end there. Today, hundreds of thousands of Americans across the nation suffer in silence from opioid addiction. Those afflicted rarely receive the support they need, while others unknowingly become dependent because they were unaware of the risks behind these painkillers. In order to stop the epidemic, advocacy groups must continue to raise awareness and support those with addiction. They should continue to pursue legal action, passing policies and holding complicit companies accountable. In turn, our federal government must recognize the need for action, funding research for treatments and sending aid to areas of the nation where drug abuse is most prevalent. The United States can no longer afford to stay silent as opioid addiction destroys the lives of its citizens each and every day.