THE U.S. OPIOID EPIDEMIC...

By: Heather Giron Fritts, MNPL, Founder The CHAN Project

November 2021

What is this thing we call the Opioid Epidemic?  A tag phrase over the past decade or so seems to be more and more common language in US households and schools.  Fentanyl, Meth, Heroin, Oxy, all these drugs are becoming common names, and our children and loved ones are becoming exposed, addicted, and dying.  Where is this coming from, how did it start and where is it going.  We hope to provide a light on this situation below and build some awareness of this all-important epidemic in the US.  It is here in Washington State, here in Snohomish and King Counties, and it is in our homes, our schools, and our families.   

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services

  • In the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies reassured the medical community that patients would not become addicted to opioid pain relievers and healthcare providers began to prescribe them at greater rates.

  • Increased prescription of opioid medications led to widespread misuse of both prescription and non-prescription opioids before it became clear that these medications could indeed be highly addictive.

  • In 2017 HHS declared a public health emergency and announced a 5-Point Strategy To Combat the Opioid Crisis

    • Improve access to prevention, treatment, and recovery support services

    • Target the availability and distribution of overdose-reversing drugs

    • Strengthen public health data reporting and collection

    • Support cutting-edge research on addiction and pain

    • Advance the practice of pain management

The Sackler's were sued, humans continued to become addicted, pill mills had run amuck, and thousands were addicted and dying in the tens of thousands.  Two docuseries capture this well and if you have the interest or the stomach to watch, these are highly recommended series that can inform you as to Big Pharma's hand in this epidemic, how it spread to doctors and unethical practices, and then jumped to our streets when justice put a stop to the distribution, not to mention Big Pharma's explanation of pseudo-addiction and recommendation to simply increase the dosage to eliminate the symptoms:

 

These docuseries are educational from two different perspectives, and fact-based showing how the US epidemic was initiated by the Sackler family greed and expanded by street counterfeit drugs coming in through countries that include China and Afghanistan today.  Dopesick, a term commonly associated with withdrawing from Opiate-based substances, could include Heroin, Morphine, or multiple other Opioid prescription pills - such as the Oxycodone that Purdue Pharma created, peddled and increased from 10 to 20 and up to 160 mg tablets with ease, while pursuing the world as their oyster for distribution.  The way in which they incentivized their sales force and lied to physicians is beyond ethical, at its worst.

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By 2019, nearly 50,000 US deaths occurred from opioid-involved overdoses. In 2021, in combination with the ramifications of the Covid Pandemic, increases in mental health issues, isolation, drug use, and more, it is expected that we will see 100,000 overdose deaths in the US! 

The NIH points out that as Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) increased, from an opioid that the Sackler's pushed as a non-addictive drug mind you, the treatment for OUD did not keep pace.  While 100 Million Americans were experiencing Opioid Use Disorder and these diagnoses quadrupled from 2010 to 2014, the prescriptions to treat did not keep up. Only 11% of patients with OUD were prescribed an MOUD.

Today, as we continue to see emergency rooms fill up across the US, thousands of patients are entering the doors for support from nonfatal opioid overdoses. These numbers continue to rise significantly, year after year, after year, and with Covid on the loose, resources are minimized, and our numbers continue to soar.  First-line workers are exhausted!  Patients are often observed by the ED, if they are fortunate enough to enter a hospital that has not cut back and discharged their social workers years ago, they might speak to a social worker before discharge.  Otherwise, they are discharged with, or without information more likely, and set on their way.  This is what happened to my son and is today why I founded the CHAN Project. My son was seen by physicians, but never once saw a social worker, did not receive recommendations, let a lone a handout with local resources, and was released on his own cognizance. Let alone this young man had just overdosed, therefore his thinking was not clear, he had just overdosed and therefore - HIS THINKING WAS NOT CLEAR!  I can't shout this from the rooftops enough!  My son is not the only mishap in today's local hospitals and this was before Covid hit our shores.

So, what happens to someone like this after they leave the hospital, alive luckily, in the coming days?  Studies tell us that most likely, these individuals die within a year, and more likely within the first couple of days after discharge.  It was six days for Chandler, the namesake of our organization.  Dr. Scott G. Weiner, a NIDA-funded investigator states “That’s a startlingly high number and perhaps shocking enough to make it clear that simply providing a paper list of detox facilities to these patients at discharge, as we have done for the past several decades, is not sufficient.” This is exactly the response I had when my son died six short days after his first hospital visit.  Why didn't they do more?  Not that, had they - my son would be alive today.  But had they, possibly my son could be alive today.  Chandler was released and sent home with his struggles.  Had they only asked him if he was interested in Suboxone, an injection I learned later from a former employer, that could have been administered in the hospital and would have lasted 30 days to decrease the cravings.  My son went searching for that drug, at no avail.  Only if a Social Worker had spoken to him and handed him a list of resources where he could go after his struggle.  My son sought out resources, AA meetings, Suboxone and more, but did not succeed.  Only if, the hospital had given a tiny bit more care to the child in front of their eyes and not the addict in their bed, and cared enough to provide resources that could have saved a life...just possibly, my son and others could be alive today.