An October 2015 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that, according to data from the National Survey of Drug Use and Health, opioid dependence increased between 2004 and 2013.
As many as 24.6 million American teens and adults (ages 12 and up) are believed to struggle with substance abuse, which accounts for more than 9% of the country’s population.
Around 1.9 million of these people suffer from addictions to prescription painkillers, while an estimated 517,000 people are dependent on heroin.
Deaths from opioid overdoses have increased from 4.5 per 100,000 people in 2003 to 7.8 per 100,000 in 2013, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Drug overdose during 2013 was the leading cause of injury-related death, even above car accidents and homicides.
And yet, as the Oct. 13 study in JAMA noted, only one-sixth (18.8%) of all opioid addicts in the U.S. received treatment for their addiction back in 2004. This percentage rose by 2013 — by .9%. In other words, more Americans are developing opioid dependence problems but health officials haven’t been able to provide more effective drug addiction treatments.
So what’s really going on here?
The truth is, working through a drug addiction is one of the hardest things a person can do. Biologically, prolonged drug use has physical and mental effects that make it difficult to quit. An opioid, for example, essentially re-wires connections within the brain and makes it hard, if not impossible, to stop using the drug without experiencing severe withdrawal effects.
Cultural and social aspects play a major role too, however, when it comes to getting treated for a drug addiction. The stigma of visiting drug treatment centers, and even being labeled as “an addict,” is incredibly prevalent in the U.S. today. People struggling with opioid dependence often choose to bypass professional opioid addiction treatments because they’re fearful of being labeled as violent, or lazy, or weak, or “just crazy.”
There are many factors to take into consideration with opioid use and abuse, and it’s important to realize that there isn’t one perfect solution that works every single time. It’s also important for patients to remember that seeking help for opioid dependence is one of the bravest things a person can do — and as more people begin focusing on these points, fewer Americans will have to suffer in silence.