According to the USA’s government website on drug abuse, 130 citizens lose their lives daily due to overdosing on various opioids. It has reached such epidemic levels that there is now a national crisis that is affecting society, the economy and public health. The national burden of treating opioid misuse is costing America $78.5 billion per year, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
The drugs in question that are causing this crisis include synthetic opioids like fentanyl, as well as heroin and prescription painkillers. The origins of the epidemic can be traced back to the late 1990s. During this time there was a surge in the amount of opioid prescriptions. This was due to the fact that pharmaceutical companies deliberately mislead medical professionals about the addictive power of their products.
The increased rate of prescriptions eventually led to widespread misuse throughout the country. By the time that doctors became aware of just how addictive opioids were it was too late to reverse the consequences. According to the Guardian, the country saw a rise in the number of reported deaths due to overdose. Over 45,000 Americans suffered such fates in 2017 alone.
Also in this year more than 1.5 million people developed disorders related to substance use. In order to further understand the scale of the epidemic it is useful to look at the statistics. Around one fifth of patients were prescribed opioids. Of these, approximately 10 percent have developed substance abuse disorders. 4 to 6 percent ended up transitioning to illegal drugs such as heroin.
It has been reported that a large proportion of heroin users were first prescribed opioids. This proportion could be as much as 80 percent. There was a 30 percent increase in the number of overdoses in 45 states from 2016 to 2017. Large cities appear to have the highest numbers of such overdoses.
What Britain Can Learn
Britain can learn a great deal from the opioid crisis in America. These two countries have fairly similar infrastructures when it comes to medicine. The main difference is that the NHS in the UK offers free healthcare. Despite this, patients often have to pay for their own prescriptions just like in the US.
If a similar opioid crisis occurred in Britain then it would have the same economic consequences. There would be an economic strain on the health care, social welfare and policing sectors. Other industries would suffer due to the loss in productivity.
Therefore, the United Kingdom should ensure that opioids are only prescribed unless absolutely necessary. Doctors should take a greater interest in the individual needs of patients so that they can offer alternatives to addictive painkillers. Putting a cap on such prescriptions is also a viable option.