More than car accidents and shootings, drug overdoses have become the leading cause of unintentional death in the United States. Among all the issues that drug addiction presents, opioid addiction is the major culprit, responsible for at least 91 deaths a day or more than half of deaths related to drug overdose.
Opioids aren’t your typical, over-the-counter painkillers—they are highly effective at reducing pain, but are also highly addictive and highly lethal. They act by binding to specific receptors found in the body that block receptors, but opioids are not without side effects. Opioids cause a rapid buildup of tolerance accompanied by an insatiable physical dependence, constipation, nausea, and respiratory depression, which can lead to death. And let me tell you this: opioid withdrawal is one of the most excruciating ordeals to deal with, with a sobriety success rate of only 5% success rate after immediately withdrawing from opioid use.
By now, most of us know that opioid abuse is a significant public health issue. It’s covered heavily by local press outlets as well as national media outlets. But despite the amount of attention being given to this issue, the evolution of the opioid abuse crisis has been overwhelming for far more communities than previously anticipated, and the problem appears to be growing as the access to opioids has proliferated nationally during the past decade. Now, solving the opioid epidemic is paramount and requires the collective efforts of every community, including our university.
How is the Opioid Epidemic Affecting Our Community?
Today, deaths related to opioids, both prescription and illicit, are occurring throughout the country; predominantly in the southeast, southwest, and western regions of the United States where deaths are becoming commonplace. But what about our community? Perhaps you would be surprised if I said that opioid abuse is even ravaging our communities.
A Daily Herald article outlines just how bad the opioid problem is becoming in our local area. The abuse of fentanyl, an opioid that is stronger than heroin, is becoming more prevalent in Will and DuPage counties. It is suspected that synthetic opioids like fentanyl are being illegally produced in China and distributed via illegal markets, some of which exist in Chicago. Many residents in these counties access these drug markets via the “heroin highway,” or the I-88-I-290 route that leads to the west side of Chicago, is a well-known path that drug users take to acquire heroin and other opioids from dealers. What remains to be answered is how many people are abusing opioids right now through this means.
While elaborate drug trade schemes remain a threat to public health, people are also acquiring drugs through other ways that are more difficult to monitor. 90.1% of reported cases of prescription opioid misuse in 2015 have happened through abusing prescriptions or receiving a drug from a friend or family member. The act of sharing opioids with others or abusing opioid prescriptions has made the opioid epidemic a situation that transcends law enforcement, which is limited to overseeing large-scale illicit drug operations.
It is also important to consider how parents that abuse opioids are setting their children up for failure. The number of children that have been poisoned by opioids has increased at an alarming rate, Because of this and the general misuse of opioids by parents, many parents have had to forfeit their rights to care for their children, resulting in thousands of displaced children ending up in the foster care systems or relocating to relatives’ households. In other words, opioids have unprecedentedly encouraged poor parenting, which is systematically reshaping how children grow up in this world and how they perceive their parents, which could lead to life-long ramifications.
Our Duty as a Community
Many people addicted to opioids, regardless of socioeconomic background, want to quit but are trapped by the chronic physical dependence, which would take several weeks, if not months or years to overcome. And most people that have died from opioid overdose didn’t intentionally choose death over life.
So, let’s face it: Opioids are an evil that indiscriminately threaten the state of our nation, which means that we must be prepared for terrible consequences in our own community. Not only that, law enforcement has no means of cracking down on all illegal opioid activities as the problem has grown into a behemoth that can’t be stopped anymore by the mere use of force. However, communities have the capacity to resolve this growing crisis through creating initiatives and programs that can help individuals in need.
Either we can watch the horrors of the epidemic continue to overtake our communities from the sidelines or we can try to do something to improve the lives of people that live in our community.
And I vote for the humane approach.