Understanding the Opioid Epidemic


Understanding the Opioid Epidemic

By: Amber Shepperd, M.A., Regional Evaluator – Prevention Resource Center 4, East Texas Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse

Open up any newspaper, social media application, or research journal today and you will see one thing in common - discussion about an epidemic in our country, our state, and our local counties. Opioid overdoses (including prescription opioids and heroin) claim the lives of 91 Americans every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In fact, the majority of drug overdose deaths (more than six out of ten) involve an opioid, with more than half a million people dying from drug overdoses from 2000-2015 (CDC, 2016).

Opioids can be natural or synthetic and the chemical compound binds to receptors in your brain or body. Opioids include heroin, as well as drugs such as methadone; codeine; hydrocodone (Vicodin, Tussionex); oxycodone (OxyContin, Percodan, Percocet-5); buprenorphine; hydromorphone (Dilaudid); morphine; meperidine (Demerol); tramadol (Ultram); fentanyl; and opium. Opioids can be administered several ways, including by mouth (swallowing or smoking), sublingually, intravenously and snorted through the nose, to name a few.

How do we know that this is an epidemic? In 2011, the CDC released data through a press release, supporting that ‘prescription painkiller overdoses are at epidemic levels’ (CDC, 2011). Since that time, the number of overdose deaths continue to rise and agencies at all levels – national, state, county, city – have recognized the current epidemic, with some heavily affected areas declaring opioid misuse and overdose a public health emergency.

It is no coincidence that while deaths involving prescription opioids have quadrupled since 1999, so have sales of these prescription drugs. Overdose rates are highest among peopled aged 25 to 54 years old, who are non-Hispanic whites and American Indian or Alaskan Natives, compared to non-Hispanic blacks and Hispanics (CDC, 2016). Beyond overdose, additional risks related to prescription opioids are misuse, abuse and opioid use disorders (addiction).

In looking specifically at Texas, rates of prescription drug misuse rates are alarmingly high. One in five Texas high school students has taken prescription drugs without a doctor’s prescription. In 2015, Texas had the second highest total healthcare costs from opioid abuse in the nation ($1.96 billion), and Texas is home to four of the top 25 cities in the U.S. for opioid abuse with two being in East Texas(Texarkana, Amarillo, Odessa and Longview). Meanwhile, only one in three prescribers is using the statewide Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP), leading to a massive loss of data (Texas Health and Human Services Commission, 2017).

Opioid abuse is a serious public health issue and there is substantial need for increased infrastructure and prevention measures in Texas, especially related to the emergence of prescription drug misuse. There are ways that you can help support your community to address and fight back against the opioid epidemic. Members of the community that are interested in serving on one of our Community Coalitions (Harrison County, Henderson County and Panola County), programs of East Texas Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse (ETCADA), are encouraged to contact your local Community Coalition Coordinator at 903-753-7633.  One of our goals is to create community awareness regarding the health consequences of substance use and to reduce the consumption of controlled substances in the community.