Opioid Crisis


Julianna Aguja, Opinions Editor

       Massachusetts is currently in the midst of an opioid epidemic. In just 15 years, the opioid overdose rate has quadrupled, as opioid prescriptions have become more common and heroin availability has rapidly increased. Since 2014, the number of opioid-related deaths in Massachusetts has been double the national average, and lots of experts speculate that as opioids continue to be abused, the number of deaths could go up significantly.

       Over 67% of all people who died of opioid-related complications were prescribed an opioid to deal with post-surgery pain and other medical issues of that sort. Opioids have proven to be very effective pain relievers. Opioid usage dates as far back as the Civil War, when morphine was used on the battlefield to aid injured soldiers. By the 1900s, it became more common for doctors to give patients doses of heroin. In just the last 30 years, the prescribing of various forms of opioids – such as Oxycontin, Vicodin, and Lortab – to help their patients cope with pain. However, as opioid prescriptions started to rise in number, doctors began to notice the addictive nature of the drug.

       Today, doctors are currently prescribing opioids 4 times more than in 2000. They are doing this because opioids seem like a quick fix for patients in pain. That may be true, however, commonly prescribed opioids like Vicodin and Lortab are often overfilled. The patients using the prescriptions, thinking that they need to take all the pills, are consuming more of the drug than they actually need, which leaves them wanting more once the bottle is empty. Doctors who prescribe these opioids can refill the prescription, but it is often too expensive for the now-addicted patients. So these people, in desperate need of the drug, turn to heroin: a cheaper, easily accessible variant of prescribed opioids.

       Heroin is even more dangerous than the deadly narcotic. The heroin being sold on the streets is often tainted with chemicals and toxins to increase the potency of the drug. These added substances include hydrochloric acid, a highly corrosive chemical that can ruin your internal structures, and strychnine, a pesticide commonly used in rat poison that is lethal to humans.

       Of course, there is no easy fix to ending the opioid crisis. However, one step towards resolving the problem is treating substance abuse like a disease. Addiction is no different from illnesses like diabetes and heart disease. Addiction is caused by a number of things, such as genetics and biological factor – similarly to other diseases. The members of our communities who are affected by addiction need support. Though there are many amazing programs and facilities available to help addicts, the stigma surrounding addiction needs to be abolished before we can make any progress.

       Yes, addiction can drive people to do very bad things and become terrible versions of themselves. Addiction turns promising individuals into sick people in desperate need of a cure to relieve their pain. Just like alcoholics turn to alcohol to forget, drug addicts turn to drugs to do the same. But somehow, alcoholism is accepted more in society.

       Many of us would stay as far away from a known-opioid addict. We see these addicts as undesirable members of society. We treat them as if they are nothing, when we should really be treating them the same way we treat people with potentially-fatal diseases: with attention, understanding and care. Until our society learns how to do this, the opioid epidemic will only spread into more towns and cause more deaths than it already has.