All over the United States, people are struggling with opioid addiction. Roughly 900 people die from overdoses each week, and some experts believe the American opioid crisis hasn’t yet reached its peak yet. Addiction affects more than those directly using the drugs; it also affects the lives of family members and friends.

The Class of Opioids

What are opioids? This class of drugs comes from a specific poppy plant that has been cultivated since 3400 BC.The desire for opium has led to wars and conflicts since that time. Today, drugs derived from the opium poppy plant fall into two categories: prescription medications and narcotics. These drugs include hydrocodone, morphine, oxycodone, methadone, codeine, heroin, and fentanyl. Prescription medications have been prescribed for pain relief after painful medical procedures and for chronic pain conditions.

The Path From Medication to Addiction

The early Sumerian’s name of the opium poppy was the Hul Gil or “joy plant.” Ancient Greek and Roman medical practitioners used opium as a highly effective pain reliever, to help sleep, and to provide relief for the bowels. Those physicians also recognized the pleasurable effects of the plant-based medication. Opioids really gained popularity in the 1990s as doctors used it to make their patients comfortable.

Unfortunately, a patient can become addicted to the pain relief within just an eight-day period of prescribed use. In fact, up to 29 percent of patients move from prescription use to misuse. About 10 percent of those develop a drug use disorder. A percentage of those move on to the use of illegal drugs.

The Identity of an Epidemic

At their very worst, the symptoms include death. In fact, some versions of the drug, such as the synthetic fentanyl have labels such as “manufactured death” because of the cheap access and heightened potency of the drug. Along the way to that end, those who use any of these drugs may become isolated from their friends and family, show a lack of personal hygiene, lose interest in hobbies, grow tired and irritable, have sudden shifts in mood, miss work and appointments, and experience financial hardship.

The Extent of the Crisis

How serious is the problem? In 2017, more than 47,000 people died of opioid overdoses. That number increased from under 10,000 in 1999. Unfortunately, marketing tactics by pharmaceutical companies, the affordable pricing, and the reputation of the drugs have made it difficult for many healthcare providers to offer alternatives for physical therapy. As the rate of opioid prescriptions increased, so did the use of illegal opioids.

Today the American opioid crisis affects primarily white Americans at nearly 80 percent of the total, black Americans and Hispanic Americans making up 11 and 8 percent, respectively. A large majority of those who suffer opioid-related death are military veterans, often because of chronic pain and the generally less-expensive opioid treatment.

Treatment and Recovery

The good news is that there are more than a thousand substance abuse treatment centers, many drug courts, and numerous mental health professionals with the training to help individuals and families overcome the effects of addiction. Recovery is possible, but treatment should begin as soon as a problem is identified.