Opioids: the drug that is killing the nation


National Center for Health Statistics

Number of deaths from prescription opioid pain relievers

Joe Smith lies in bed, reflecting on his victory from Friday night’s football game. He grimaces as he reaches for the bottle of pills on his bedside tablehis saving grace for the excruciating knee injury he earned during the game-winning tackle. For the next two weeks, this pattern is the same. Pain. Pill. Pain. Pill. Painonly to realize with distraught his bottle is empty.

“Hey, I have some leftover painkillers from my ACL surgery,” A friend informs him.

Thankful, Smith accepts his friend’s offer. Suddenly, a horrifying thought comes to Smith: he is addicted to prescription opioids.

Prescription opioids, such as OxyContin and Vicodin, are the most commonly abused drug. They are given to patients as painkillers but also affect the brain’s reward system, causing a person to feel high. This high sensation becomes addictive and has caused millions of Americans to misuse the drug. This has led to the opioid epidemic.

According to the Center for Disease Control, since 1999, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids has quadrupled. Furthermore, nearly 20,000 Americans die from prescription opioids each year, and 75 of those are teenagers.

Despite the millions of Americans who are affected by opioid abuse, few teenagers are aware of the problem. In a poll of 50 White Station students, only six correctly answered that prescription opioids were the leader of drug-related deaths. Other common answers were cocaine and heroin.

Perhaps this ignorance is accredited to pop culture, which highlights social and party drugs. Or maybe it is because teenagers do not think opioid overdose affects them, when in fact, non-medical use of prescription drugs is highest among young adults aged 18-25. In addition, after marijuana and alcohol, the most commonly used drug by 12th graders are prescription drugs.

The epidemic is particularly brutal in Tennessee. The state scored second in the nation for writing the most opioid prescriptions. In fact, Tennessee has more opioid prescriptions than it even has people. However, the state is developing policies to combat the epidemic. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigations is taking initiative by setting up locations around the state where people can surrender unused medications to remove drugs from potential abusers. This initiative is important because like Joe Smith, the majority of people who abuse prescription opioids get them from friends and family.

The opioid epidemic has ravaged the nation, affecting young people and Tennessee harder than most.

Researchers and policymakers have developed ways to treat opioid addiction but the best action is prevention. Correct use of prescription painkillers is the only faulty-proof way to ensure you don’t become another number.

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