Opioid addiction is a crisis that affects millions of Americans from all demographics as its effects continue to spread across the country with no clear end in sight. This epidemic has had an enormous impact on people from all walks of life; Its victims come from all age groups, orientations, ethnicities, genders, professions, and classes.
115 Americans die every day due to opioid-related causes and 7,000 are treated every day for opioid-related complications. Unless there is a serious change in the way that we think about opioid addiction and its treatments then the spread of this illness in our country will not stop until we modernize both our thinking and our treatment around opioids.
When we first think of just who might be affected by the opioid epidemic our minds would first think of veterans. Veterans have often been prescribed opioids in order to relieve post-combat injuries and are more susceptible to addiction as they are one of the groups more vulnerable to chronic pain. Things like mental health problems and PTSD can also lead veterans down a path of self-medicating in order to relieve their symptoms and slowly end up falling into addiction with opioids, heroin, and alcohol.
Addiction to opioids is also prevalent within the LGBTQ community as a way to relieve psychological distress that they may experience regularly as a person that society at large still often discriminates against. As a whole, the LGBTQ community has higher rates of substance abuse due in part by the fact that there are societal imposed obstacles that they often face on a daily basis. Self-medication and addiction are common in this group.
College students are another group affected by the opioid epidemic as they can find themselves pressured into drug use at parties or turn towards opioids in order to sedate anxiety. Young adults between the ages of 18-25 are some of the most vulnerable to opioid abuse as illicit drug experimentation may begin in their teens and continue or worsen as they progress into college through the normalization of their substance abuse. Once a tolerance or dependence on the substance happens then addiction is likely to follow in later years.
Opioid use in elderly populations is very common as they can easily access pain medication because of medical disorders and pains naturally associated with the aging process. The risk of side effects and negative drug interactions are also increased for seniors using prescription opioids as they may be taking multiple medications for several health problems.
Young Children and Adolescents
Despite what one may think, children and adolescents are not immune to dependency or addiction to opioids. The risk of addiction to opioids is heightened for children whose parents were addicted. Not only that, but pregnant mothers who are addicted to opioids can also pass their addiction onto their unborn babies as the chemicals from the opioids will pass from the mother’s bloodstream into the child’s. When this happens, babies can be born with neonatal abstinence syndrome. Neonatal abstinence syndrome is when a baby is born showing the signs and symptoms of opioid withdrawal as well as low birth weight and a number of other birth defects. Alongside the misuse of opioids, neonatal abstinence syndrome has drastically risen making children the youngest casualties of this opioid epidemic.
Foster care placement has also risen along with the rates of misuse of opioids and opioid-related deaths as many children are losing parents and guardians to the effects of drug abuse and addiction every year. Even children who do not use drugs can be affected by parents who abuse opioids as they miss out on parental bonding, child development, forming emotional connections and nurturing moments with their parent or parents. Unintentional neglect of the child may also occur resulting in child services removing the child from the custody of their parents.
The opioid crisis is also prevalent in economically disadvantaged and rural communities. Opioid prescriptions are given out in higher rates in rural communities and health access tends to be limited with fewer treatment programs available for opioid addiction. Up until recently, opioid-related deaths in rural areas had outpaced those in urban areas. However, due to the flow of synthetic opioids making its way into urban communities that it is no longer the case.
We as a society cannot allow this epidemic to continue any longer and must come together to find a modern solution to the evolving opioid crisis. Families from all walks of life are being affected as lives are being thrown into chaos in a system that fails to acknowledge that opioid addiction is not a human failing, but a chronic illness and must be treated as such for us to move forward. It is only when we come together that we can make significant changes by joining our hands and hearts towards finding a modern medical solution to the nationwide opioid epidemic.