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When Did the Opioid Crisis Start?

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Opioids such as morphine have been used for centuries in the United States as both a medical treatment for pain and an illicit drug. In more recent history, the nation has been hit by an opioid crisis unlike anything seen thus far. More than 130 people die each day from opioid-related drug overdoses.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recognize the opioid crisis as a public health emergency, with the CDC going so far as to label it an opioid epidemic. In this post, we’ll explore when the opioid crisis started and where you can turn if you or someone you love is caught in opioid addiction.

The History of Opioids in the United States

Opioids are a class of drugs naturally found in the opium poppy plant. In 1775, opium became more widely available to pre-Revolutionary Americans. By 1860, morphine — an opiate derived from opium — was used as a painkiller during the Civil War. Sadly, many soldiers on both sides became addicted.

Chemists continued to try to find a less addictive form of morphine to use as an anesthetic. In 1874, heroin was created for this purpose. As more people became addicted to opioids, the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act limited these drugs in 1914, making them only available by prescription. For the most part, this curbed the illicit use of opioids for some time — until the modern opioid crisis.

The Three Waves of the Opioid Crisis

Throughout the late 20th century, pharmaceutical companies researched and developed opioid drugs. Between 1984 and 1999, Vicodin®, OxyContin® and Percocet® were approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat chronic pain. These synthetic opioids mimic the effects of natural opiaits, such as morphine but were believed to be safer. This misinformation is mainly due to a huge pharma marketing campaign in the late 1990s. This paved the way for three waves of opioid-related deaths that define the opioid crisis.

Wave One

In the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies reassured the medical community that their opioid pain relievers would not put patients at risk of addiction. Because of this, health care providers began writing prescriptions at greater rates for the treatment of non-cancer-related pain. However, these prescription opioids were highly addictive. As they became more easily and widely available, the opioid crisis was born.

Between 1997 and 2002, morphine, fentanyl and oxycodone prescriptions increased by 73%, 226% and 402%, respectively. This lead to a dramatic and noticeable increase in overdose deaths involving both natural and semi-synthetic prescription opioids.

Wave Two

The second surge of opioid-related overdose deaths began in 2010 and involved heroin. After two decades of increased opioid prescriptions, many patients admitted to misusing their medications. By 2010, many of those addicted to prescription opioids turned to illicit heroin because the drug was more readily available, less expensive and offered a more potent high. This lead to a significant increase in heroin overdose deaths.

Wave Three

Wave three began in 2013 when illegally made fentanyl became more widely available as a street drug. This dangerous synthetic opioid pain reliever has potent side effects up to 100 times stronger than morphine. The illicit manufacturing of this drug is the main driver of the most recent increase in opioid-related deaths.

Contact BAART Programs for Help With Opioid Addiction

At BAART Programs, we’re committed to fighting the opioid crisis and supporting individuals ready to break free from addiction. We deliver quality outpatient medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and compassionate counseling. If you would like to learn more about our services, contact us today.

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