Opioids are a class of drugs that include natural and synthetic versions of opium. When opioids are taken as prescribed, they can be an effective treatment for chronic pain. Its history ‍first became prevalent in the United States in the early 1860s as a way to treat wounded soldiers. 

These soldiers were treated with morphine, and many developed dependencies and addictions to the drug in the years following the war In recent years, the use of prescription opioids has increased dramatically, as has the incidence of opioid-related deaths. 

Opioid abuse is now a recognized epidemic. According to preliminary data from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, there were 100,306 drug-related deaths in the United States in the 12-month period ending April 2021. This is an increase of 28.5% over the 78.056 deaths that occurred at the same time last year. 

This is a public health crisis and something we need to address at the local and national levels. Let’s explore this topic together and see what we can do about it.

What is an Opioid?

An opioid is a type of drug that reduces pain by binding to receptors in the brain. The word opioid comes from “opiate”, a term that describes any drug that is similar to opium in its effect on the human body and mind. 

There are three main types of opioid medications: Natural or synthetic opium-based drugs, such as morphine and heroin Synthetic drugs that affect opioid receptors in the brain, such as methadone and fentanyl Synthetic drugs that block other opioids, such as naloxone Opioids can be highly addictive, and taking them without a medical reason is considered a form of misuse. 

That’s why they’ve been getting a lot of attention lately as a result of their misuse and abuse.

What is causing the rise in opioid-related deaths?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that in 2016 approximately 42,000 people died of an opioid overdose. The majority of opioid deaths are caused by a combination of drugs, most commonly a combination of opioids and other drugs like alcohol. 

There are a number of factors that account for the increase in opioid-related deaths. These include an increase in prescriptions for opioids and the rise in heroin use. People who are addicted to opioids sometimes turn to heroin because it’s cheaper and easier to obtain than prescription opioids. With the increase in prescription drug use and the proliferation of illicit drug use, there are more opportunities for fatal overdose.

opioid-related deaths

How do opioids cause death?

The CDC found that most opioid deaths involve a combination of opioid-type drugs and other drugs. Drugs with a high risk for fatal overdose include heroin, fentanyl, prescription opioids, methadone, and other prescription drugs such as benzodiazepines and antidepressants. 

Heroin: Heroin is a highly addictive opioid that is sometimes cut with other substances, such as fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid. When a person uses heroin and fentanyl together, they are at a higher risk for an overdose because the user doesn’t know what they’re getting and could get more than they expect. This is especially dangerous because the effects are so unpredictable. 

Fentanyl: Fentanyl is sometimes prescribed as a painkiller. It’s 100 times more powerful than morphine and 30-50 times more powerful than heroin. Fentanyl is a major cause in opioid-related deaths because it’s so potent and it’s often mixed with other drugs. Prescription 

opioids: These include oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and morphine. Prescription opioids are highly addictive and potent. They come in many forms, including patches, pills, syrups, and injections.

The Importance of Containing the Opioid Epidemic

Overdoses are now the leading cause of death for people under 50. It is important to note that the opioid epidemic isn’t happening because people suddenly want to die. The rise in opioid-related deaths is mostly happening due to the use of prescription drugs that are being misused. 

It’s important to understand how opioids are affecting people so we can come up with better ways to manage and treat pain. People who misuse prescription opioids often start by taking the drugs as prescribed, but then they become addicted to the feeling they get from the drug. 

Scientists have found that when people misusing prescription opioids try to quit, they experience a wide range of symptoms, including restlessness, muscle pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, rash, and sweating. 

These symptoms are often stronger than the desire to keep misusing the drug. Containing the epidemic means tackling it at the source: prescription opioids.

How can we contain the opioid epidemic?

opioid epidemic

The first thing we have to do is make sure our medical providers are prescribing opioids correctly. It’s important that people who truly need opioids get them. If a patient is misusing opioids, this means they’ll need help getting off the drugs. 

We can prevent people from misusing opioids in the first place by increasing the public’s awareness of the risks of prescription opioids. 

The government needs to increase funding for research into opioid addiction treatment.

We need better data about opioid use and addiction so we can better understand and tackle the epidemic.


The rise in opioid-related deaths is a public health crisis. The opioid epidemic is being driven by prescription opioids. This is why it is important to make sure that medical providers are prescribing opioids correctly and that the public is aware of the risks of prescription opioids to prevent misuse. 

Containing the epidemic means tackling it at the source: prescription opioids. We need to increase funding for research into opioid addiction treatment, increase public awareness of the risks of prescription opioids, and improve data about opioid use and addiction so we can better understand and tackle the epidemic.

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