The numbers are staggering. In 1999, a little over 4,000 people overdosed on opioids. In 2015, roughly 20,000. In 2016, 60,000. Yesterday, President Trump announced that the opioid epidemic is a national emergency.
"The opioid crisis is an emergency. And I’m saying officially, right now, it is an emergency, it’s a national emergency. We’re going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money on the opioid crisis," said President Trump.
A recent analysis found that drug overdose deaths rose 19 percent from 2015 to 2016. The largest annual jump in overdose deaths in U.S. history. How did it happen? KMIR News spoke with Dr. Huy Ho of the Betty Ford Center. He said the problem started in the late 90’s. And it started with pain treatment.
"New opioid medications were coming out from pharmacies and there was a big push to treat pain. Pain was seen as the sixth vital sign," said Dr. Ho.
Doctors began to quickly and freely prescribe opioids to treat pain because of the minimal side effects involved.
"Those that were started on opioid medications now have become addicted to it and we’re seeing the consequences of that today," Dr. Ho said.
Many people who become addicted to opioids soon find that they can skip the doctors prescription. The fix can be gotten else where. From a different type of opioid. One that is cheap and easy to get…heroin.
"A lot of patients come in who intitially initially got started on opioid prescription medications and then transitioned over to heroin because it was more accessible for them," Dr. Ho said.
Medical professionals say pain treatment is still necessary and there are cases where opioid prescriptions are still appropriate. But before that prescription can be made, Doctors need to have a serious conversation with their patients.
"This is something serious. An opioid medication isn’t just a Tylenol or just an ibuprofen. There are consequences to it’s use," Dr Ho said.
Today physicians all over the country are aware of the disturbing regularity of opioid overdoses. Doctors have become much more careful when prescribing opioids for pain treatment. They look at a patients background and addiction history. They also take into account the patients family history of addiction.
The statistics are clear and both former president Barack Obama and President Donald Trump agree. America is in a crisis.