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The Opioid Epidemic in America

The Opioid Epidemic in America: A Historical Perspective

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Everyone is talking about it. In America, it can seem like everywhere you turn. There’s another tragic news story about the death and devastation brought on by an opioid epidemic in this country. While fatalities are skyrocketing lately due to easy access to opiates, there has been a dark side to these pain-killing substances throughout American history. This latest epidemic is one in a series of troubling periods of human suffering and death in America resulting from the abuse of opiates, going as far back as the arrival of the Mayflower in the 1620s1.

History and Prevalence of Opiates

Opiate use and addiction have deep roots in America, tracing back to the time of the Pilgrims. They brought over a substance known then as laudanum, derived from opium in poppy plants. Over the years, opiates have become a standard part of medical care, valued for their powerful pain-relieving properties. While most opiates became controlled substances at the federal level during the 19th century, they continued to be used medically and recreationally. In the ’60s and ’70s, opiate addiction saw a resurgence with the introduction of new synthetic opioids and the influx of illegal heroin from Asia.

christian rehab centers  Today, opiate addiction is a critical concern, with experts viewing it as an epidemic. Around 30 million people globally abuse opiates; in the U.S., approximately 2.1 million individuals are struggling with addiction. Tragically, overdose deaths have quadrupled since 1999, reflecting the growing number of opiate users. This crisis affects various segments of our population, particularly adolescents and women. The surge in opiate use among young people can be attributed to the substantial increase in opioid prescriptions over the past decade. Women, in particular, are more susceptible to higher-dose prescriptions and tend to use these pain relievers for longer periods, resulting in 48,000 deaths from prescription pain reliever overdoses in the past decade.3

Outward Symptoms of Opiate Use

Opiate addiction is marked by noticeable physical symptoms and abnormal behavior, making it relatively easy to detect. These physical symptoms include:

  1. Evident elation and euphoria.
  2. Significant sedation and sleepiness.
  3. Confusion.
  4. Constricted pupils.
  5. Slow breathing.
  6. “Nodding off” or unexpectedly losing consciousness, even at inappropriate times.
  7. Constipation.
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When individuals start abusing opiates, their behavior often undergoes significant changes as they seek to maintain their high and support their habit. These behavioral patterns may include:

  1. Doctor shopping, which involves visiting different doctors to obtain multiple prescriptions.
  2. Moodiness with rapid and dramatic shifts in temperament.
  3. Presence of paraphernalia such as pill bottles, spoons, foil, needles, and other drug-related items.
  4. Withdrawing from social settings, friends, and family.
  5. Financial difficulties may lead to stealing or frequently asking for money.

Recognizing these telltale signs can be crucial in identifying opiate addiction early on and providing the necessary support for individuals to break free from this destructive cycle.

Typical Cost to the Opioid Addict

When considering the true “cost” of opiate addiction, it extends beyond the mere financial expenses of purchasing the drugs. While supporting an opiate habit is undeniably costly and can lead to extensive problems for addicts, the price of addiction encompasses much more than just money.

Initially, when an addict has a prescription, most opiates are relatively inexpensive. However, the street price escalates significantly once they begin abusing these drugs outside a doctor’s supervision. On the illicit market, an addict’s supply can surge by 10-13 times its original cost. This exponential increase renders the pills unaffordable, particularly since prescriptions cost $40-100 per bottle. Consequently, many addicts turn to the more perilous option of heroin, which, though still expensive, is obtainable for a much lower price, usually around $20 per dose.

This shift towards cheaper and riskier alternatives showcases the desperate lengths to which addiction drives individuals, exposing them to greater dangers and health risks. The true cost of opiate addiction encompasses the financial burden and the toll it takes on the overall well-being of those caught in its grip.5

Effect of Opiates on the Addict

christian rehab centersOpiates possess potent properties and should never be used without the guidance and supervision of a professional physician. When individuals self-medicate with opiates, the consequences can be perilous. When an opiate addict becomes intoxicated, they experience a profound sense of calm and euphoria, alongside insensitivity to pain, drowsiness, and a slowed respiratory system6.

Furthermore, opiates have a profound impact on the brain. Their primary action, whether in painkillers or heroin, is to inhibit the brain’s release of a naturally occurring chemical called GABA. This chemical plays a crucial role in regulating the flow of dopamine, which is responsible for the experience of pleasure. When GABA is obstructed, it triggers an intense rush of euphoria, for which opiates are notorious. However, over prolonged periods of addiction, these alterations in brain chemistry can lead to depression and other mood disorders.

As an opiate addict progresses into the chronic addiction stage, the risks escalate significantly. Users may encounter distressing symptoms such as muscle spasms, cardiovascular issues like heart attacks, and, in severe cases, death7. Notably, opiates are the leading cause of drug overdoses in the United States, surpassing all other substances in the fatalities they cause.

Understanding the profound effects of opiates on the body and the mind underscores the urgency of addressing this crisis. It is crucial to provide support, treatment, and education to those affected by opiate addiction to prevent further devastating consequences for individuals and communities.

Permanence and Relapse of Opioid Use

Treating opiate addiction can be challenging, as with many addictive drugs. Specifically, opiate addicts face a significant hurdle, with over 90% expected to experience at least one relapse during their recovery journey. While most relapses occur early in the process, it’s important to recognize that opiate addiction is often a lifelong struggle, and relapses can occur at any point in an individual’s life.

The reasons behind relapses in opiate recovery can vary widely. Opiate addicts often suffer alterations and damage to a crucial brain region, the mesolimbic system, responsible for pleasure and reward. As opiates influence this area, most addicts rely on the drug to experience any semblance of pleasure or well-being. Without it, they endure persistent feelings of depression or anxiety. While this damage can be overcome, it requires substantial time and effort for an addict to resume a more ordinary life eventually.

To foster recovery for opiate addicts, a prolonged period of controlled separation from the drug is often necessary. This can occur in a hospital setting or a specialized rehab facility, allowing the intense cravings of early recovery to subside gradually. Following this initial phase, many addicts find therapeutic sessions, 12-step programs, and religious programs highly beneficial in their ongoing journey toward healing.

Supportive and comprehensive treatment, coupled with understanding the complex nature of opiate addiction, is vital in helping individuals break free from its grip and rebuild their lives. By addressing the underlying causes and providing effective rehabilitation programs, we can offer hope and encouragement to those facing the challenges of opiate addiction.

Detoxing Opiates

christian rehab centers Opiate withdrawal is a well-documented phenomenon that instills both fear and legendary tales within the addict community. The severity and duration of this withdrawal period vary based on an individual’s history of opiate use and the quantities consumed.

Withdrawal symptoms include a range of challenging experiences, such as agitation, anxiety, muscle aches, insomnia, sweating, and exhaustion.

During particularly severe withdrawal episodes, addicts may endure more pronounced symptoms, including abdominal cramps, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.

While some addicts attempt to detox in the comfort of their own homes, this approach can be riskier and more painful. The allure of intense cravings during this time may lead them to succumb to the urge to use again. Opting for a medical setting offers distinct advantages, as opiate detox drugs (e.g., methadone, suboxone, etc.) can help alleviate some withdrawal symptoms and prevent cravings, providing a safer and more supportive environment for recovery9.

By understanding the challenges of opiate withdrawal and offering appropriate medical assistance, we can foster a more compassionate and effective approach to helping individuals navigate this critical phase of their journey toward recovery.

Physical and Mental Difficulty of Recovery from Opiates

christian rehab centersRecovering from severe addictions, such as opiates, presents a long and challenging journey. After clearing the initial withdrawal and detox phase, opiate addicts require ongoing recovery and substantial support.

Relapse rates for opiate users are notably high, particularly during early recovery, when overwhelming cravings make it incredibly challenging to resist the temptation to use again. To address this, some opiate recovery approaches incorporate a tapering protocol, gradually reducing the addict’s doses of methadone, buprenorphine, naltrexone, or naloxone. These medications effectively diminish cravings without inducing the euphoric and debilitating effects of opiates.

Therapy and robust support are integral components of a comprehensive recovery plan. The specific therapy and support options may vary depending on the individual, the recovery center or group involved, and the intensity of the addiction. Some addicts find solace in 12-step groups, while others may prefer a religious program. Regardless of the chosen path, addicts need to delve into the underlying causes of their addiction and the behaviors that support it. Doing so can profoundly transform their perspective on the world and their place within their community.

Through dedication, professional guidance, and a strong support system, individuals struggling with opiate addiction can embark on a transformative journey toward a healthier and more fulfilling life.

2017 Public Health Emergency

christian rehab centersOn October 26, 2017, President Trump addressed the opioid crisis by declaring it “a public health emergency” during a significant ceremony held at the White House. However, the effectiveness of this declaration in mobilizing the substantial funds required, amounting to billions of dollars, to combat the epidemic is yet to be seen.

Initially, there were indications that the president would officially declare a “national emergency” on opioids, which would have treated the drug epidemic similarly to extreme hurricanes or natural disasters. Such a designation would trigger emergency funds and resources from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

However, President Trump ultimately opted for the “public health emergency” declaration, which administration officials believe to be more tailored to addressing the nuances of the opioid crisis. The White House has expressed its commitment to collaborating with Congress to increase federal funds dedicated to addiction recovery efforts while also redirecting existing grants to enhance the battle against the epidemic.

In addition, the administration plans to expand access to telemedicine, empowering doctors to treat more patients in rural areas. An essential component of their strategy involves launching an advertising campaign to dissuade young people from trying opioids. Furthermore, efforts will be made to streamline the hiring process for addiction professionals and establish training requirements in safe opioid prescribing practices.

With these targeted initiatives, the government aims to confront the opioid crisis effectively, addressing its multifaceted challenges while ensuring that resources are appropriately allocated to support those impacted by addiction. By combining a range of approaches, including increased funding, improved access to telemedicine, and awareness campaigns, they seek to make significant progress in curbing the devastating effects of the opioid epidemic.

christian rehab centersTeen Challenge Christian Rehab Centers:
Transforming Lives in the Opioid Epidemic

In the face of the opioid epidemic, Teen Challenge Christian rehab centers have emerged as a formidable force, breaking the chains of addiction and guiding individuals toward lasting recovery. By blending faith-based principles with evidence-based treatments, these centers have demonstrated remarkable effectiveness in restoring lives, healing communities, and instilling hope in those impacted by addiction. As our nation unites to combat the opioid crisis, Teen Challenge Christian rehab centers stand committed to providing unwavering support and compassionate care, shaping a future where stories of recovery and redemption take center stage in the fight against opioids. If you or a loved one need help, don’t hesitate to call us today.


1 The Guardian. “The strange history of opiates in America: from morphine for kids to heroin for soldiers.” James Nevius. March 15, 2016. www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/mar/15/long-opiate-use-history-America-latest-epidemic

2 NIDA. “America’s Addiction to Opioids: Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse.” Nora D. Volkow, M.D. May 14, 2014. www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/legislative-activities/testimony-to-congress/2016/americas-addiction-to-opioids-heroin-prescription-drug-abuse

3 American Society of Addiction Medicine. “Opioid Addiction 2016 Facts & Figures”. Hedegaard H., Chen LH., Warner M. www.asam.org/docs/default-source/advocacy/opioid-addiction-disease-facts-figures.pdf

4 Becker’s ASC Review. “Prescription Painkillers Cost Up to 13 Times More on Street”. June 6, 2011. www.beckersasc.com/pain-management/prescription-painkillers-cost-up-to-13-times-more-on-street.html

5 Heroin.Net. “The Street Cost of Heroin.” heroin.net/about/how-much-does-heroin-cost/#streetcost

6 Administrative Office of the Courts. “Prescription Drugs: Short and Long Term Effects.” www2.courtinfo.ca.gov/stopteendui/teens/resources/substances/pharming/short-and-long-term-effects.cfm

7 DrugAbuse.com. “The Effects of Painkiller Use.” Eric Patterson. drugabuse.com/library/the-effects-of-painkiller-use/

8 DrugAbuse.com. “Opiate Relapse.” Cassandra Keuma, LPC. drugabuse.com/library/opiate-relapse/

9 DrugAbuse.com. “Painkiller Detox and Withdrawal.” Joe Houchins, MA. drugabuse.com/library/painkiller-detox/

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Opioid Epidemic - Information by American Rehab Centers

Teen Challenge, a network of affordable Christian rehab centers, help individuals overcome their opioid drug addictions.

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