How the Opioid Crisis Happened

7 mins read

Opioids have risen to become one of the most commonly abused drugs in the modern era. Unfortunately, it has proven to have a significant death toll attributed to it as well. In 2016, a whopping 63,632 people died due to drug overdoses, with nearly two-thirds involving opioids. The epidemic is also growing both geographically and demographically with no apparent signs of stopping.

You may be wondering how this problem grew to such immense proportion when deaths from opioids were a fraction of what they currently are just a few short decades ago. This article will delve into the opioid crisis, addiction, and what we can do to mitigate the problem.

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History of Opioid Use

The earliest known reference to opiates dates back to more than 3000 years B.C., during which time poppies were cultivated and used to make opium. This substance was widely used for an array of illnesses and psychological problems.

In the early 1800’s morphine was first isolated from opium, beginning a long-lived tradition of purifying opiates to increase potency. The newly invented morphine was used extensively in the Civil War, so much so that the ensuing addiction epidemic was referred to as “soldier’s disease”.

By the end of the 19th century, heroin had been synthesized from morphine, originally advertised as a “non-addictive” substitute for morphine. However, the true addictive face of this drug was soon discovered as well.

Opioids in the Modern Era

By 1950, oxycodone, another derivative of opium, became widely available. Ever since the 1960’s, prescription drugs containing oxycodone have been recurring concerns to the United States.

During the 1990’s, pharmaceutical companies began to campaign and reassure the medical community that patients would not become addicted to the opioids they were offering, at which point healthcare providers began to prescribe the drugs more liberally.

As this trend of bountiful prescription grew, as did the widespread use and abuse of both legal and non-legal opioids. In much the same way that civil war soldiers would take the drugs to aid with their injuries only to be left with a crippling addiction, people in modern times with broken bones or surgical injuries befall a similar fate.


Purdue Pharma unleashed a controlled-release opioid known as Oxycontin, aimed at patients with chronic pain. It was advertised as “non-addictive” due to the slow-release nature of the drug, which was designed to be ingested and internally metabolized over the course of 12 hours. However, it didn’t take long to realize that these pills could be crushed or dissolved to deliver a more immediate high. Today, the shadow of opioid overprescription looms large for many, with illegal sedatives arriving to fill the void once the doctor’s prescription runs out. In recent years, the amount of heroin in the country has risen dramatically, which provides a cheap way for addicts to persist in their addiction.


Fentanyl represents yet another benchmark in the creation of increasingly potent opioids. This drug and its related counterparts represent among the strongest opioids the world has ever seen. It is often mixed in with street heroin to intensify the high of the drug, which imparts an astronomical risk to the user. Since street heroin is void of all clinical regulations and precautions, it is easy to make a batch that kills the user upon administration.

Signs of an Opioid Addiction

Due to the intrinsic risk of an opioid addiction, it is crucially important that a sufferer receives professional help immediately. The chances of death are far more likely in the cases of opioid addiction than many other types of dependence, so always err on the side of caution.

Because of the way that the drug acts on the body, often times the addiction symptoms are somewhat predictable and detectable if you are monitoring someone’s behavior.

When someone is abusing opioids, they may display a noticeable euphoria after administering the drug, coupled with tiredness and sedation when the euphoria wears off. They may also nod off or lose consciousness spontaneously. Likewise, slower reaction times and movements are commonplace, as the drug depresses the nervous system.

Opioids cause a release of “feel-good” chemicals within the brain, which over time causes more long-term changes to occur. As the body acclimates to the regular administration of the drug, it begins to become desensitized to the pleasures of everyday life since opiates have effectively raised the threshold required to feel.

When a person has been compromised by opioid abuse, often they will become reclusive or far less interested in social activities. They will also often lose interest in hobbies or things they typically enjoyed when they were sober.

Emotional instability or rapid mood changes are also a tell-tale sign that something is awry since the dependence on opioids affects the same chemicals that control emotions.

About the Author

Susan Ranford is an expert on career coaching, business advice, and workplace rights. She has written for New York Jobs, IAmWire, and ZipJob. In her blogging and writing, she seeks to shed light on issues related to employment, business, and finance to help others understand different industries and find the right job fit for them.

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