Who is to Blame for the Opioid Crisis in America?

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There is an opioid epidemic going on in America and no one really knows who to blame, but the culprits may not be the actual drug user but pharmaceutical companies and doctors. Most people believe that it’s the addicts fault they are addicted to drugs. People also believe that the drug companies are to blame for the opioid epidemic. Although most people blame the addicts, they are not all to blame for the epidemic. In fact, there are a combination of factors that may be to blame.

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The term opioid in fact is derived from the word “opium”. But they are not actually made from poppies but are a “synthetic drug that produces opiate-like effects” in people. (Opium.com) An opioid is a narcotic pain medication that are used to treat moderate to severe pain. How opioid drugs works is by binding “to opioid receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and other areas of your body.” (Webmd.com) Thus, your brain tells the rest of your body, it no longer hurts. There are a variety of different opioids that are prescribed to people including Fentanyl, Hydrocodone/acetaminophen (Vicodin), Methadone, Morphine, Oxycodone (OxyContin) and Oxycodone/acetaminophen (Percocet). All are highly addictive if used incorrectly which may be why so many people are hooked.

In the beginning an innocent little flower has created an epidemic in the United States and it is the poppy. The poppy’s “molecules derived from it have effectively conquered contemporary America.” (Sullivan) It is so true that is has caused a crisis which doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. According to the article “The Poison We Pick” an estimated “2 million Americans are now hooked on some kind of opioid.” (Sullivan) With the continued usage of opioids more and more people are dying.

Now who could be to blame for the opioid crisis in America, the drug user, the doctor, or the pharmaceutical companies? Starting at the beginning with the creation of opioids, the drug Oxycontin became available in 1995. Oxycontin “was based on science that only showed it safe and effective when used “short-term”.” (Whitaker) But the FDA approved the drug to used for people with long-term pain after being pressured by Pharmaceutical companies. According to the 20/20 feature story, all the FDA did was change “short-term” to “long-term” on the packaging and more of the drugs were sold at higher prices and doses.

One crisis from the opioid epidemic is that once people are addicted to the feeling from the opioids and they cannot get the drug of choice anymore, they will switch to harder more lethal drugs. They want to experience the same “high” they get from the opioids but are unable to attain or afford the drug. If they can no longer get the opioids, they then search for an alternative such as heroin or meth which are illegal and more dangerous. Thus, by doing this, they may face jail or worse.

Most people in America know at least one person who is either directly feels the effects of opioid addiction or know of someone. My oldest niece has been battling opioid addiction for the last five years. She has been clean on and off but reverts to her old ways every few months. She has been to jail several times and in rehab as well. Nothing seems to work. She first became addicted after she was burnt in an accident. Unfortunately, she also suffers from post-traumatic stress from the accident. She was prescribed opioids to help with the pain but has since become addicted to them. She has gone from simple opioids to harder drugs such as heroin. All these factors have led her down a path of destruction that has ruined her life.

As mentioned earlier, people do believe that drug companies are to blame for the opioid crisis. It is true that drug companies are partially to blame for the issue. With the drug binding to “areas of the that control pain and emotions” it also increases the level of “dopamine in the brain’s rewards area and producing an intense feeling of euphoria,” no wonder people are so hooked. (CNN.com) They simply cannot get the same feeling from other non-addicting drugs.

Another factor in the crisis is that unlike other countries around the world, the health system in America is “run as an industry not a service.” (McGreal) If it was run as a service, it would be more apt that more care would be taken into prescribing pain killers to people. But money makes the world go around which results in profits before people. Consider that pills are less expensive than other methods of healing. Chris McGreal’s article also discusses that big drug companies also push the idea “that there is a right to be pain free.” Even so, people and doctors should investigate other means to cope with and relieve pain.

In addition to the big pharmaceutical companies pushing to have the opioids in the market, there is also the doctors who over-prescribe the drugs to people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion a year, including the cost of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment and criminal involvement.” (NIDA) That is a staggering amount of money when you think about it. Not only does it affect the individual but also everyone else. In addition, someone may have something wrong with them and are unable to obtain the required drugs because other people have pulled stuff in the past to get drugs that they really don’t need. This makes it harder for actual ill people from receiving their medication.

Furthermore, it still seems to all come back to the big pharmaceutical companies pushing for doctors to prescribe more opioids to make more money. There are lawsuits and investigations going on across America which are “hoping to hold drug makers accountable for the collateral damage of the nations’ opioid crisis.” (Silvestrini) Also take into account the amount of opioids that have been sold in America to “pharmacies, hospitals and doctors’ offices almost quadrupled from 1999 to 2014.” (Silverstrini). All this with no obvious difference in peoples “overall reported pain.” (Silverstrini) Why continue to prescribe the pain medication if it’s not helping the patient? The answer is simple, MONEY.

The drug companies ran a “multi-faceted campaign” to push the opioids onto the market and patients. (Silverstrini) One such tactic was sending letters out about the opioids and told doctors that “these drugs were not very addictive.” (Silverstrini) That was not true and now people suffer because of it. Another entity to blame is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for not enforcing laws. Doctors also bear the burden for not researching the drugs before prescribing the opioids to their patients. Another thing that doctors do is ask for patient’s “5th vital sign”. Which is where doctors and nurses “ask patients to rate their pain on a scale of 10 in all clinical encounters.” (Silverstrini) Of course, if a person was addicted to the drug, they are going to say a high number.

Another clue to who is to blame for the epidemic is “a Los Angeles Times investigation into Purdue Pharma, for instance, found that the drug maker, which marketed OxyContin as a relieving pain for 12 hours, knew that the drug wore off before that time period.” (Semuels) A clear sign that they knew people would have to take more of the pills to be pain free. The patients also suffered through withdrawal when they ran out to the medication. This shows that it was clearly about getting the drug on the market to make money without a lot of drug trials.

Now take into consideration that the doctors may have been prescribing the drugs too freely. Just because a patient came in complaining of pain doesn’t mean they should receive a prescription for opioids. The biggest issue is that doctors were still hung up on the “five sentence letter from 1980 that said that the majority of sample hospital patients who had been prescribed opioids did not get addicted.” (Semeuls) The doctors should’ve done more research and did a case by case basis for each patient.

Most people think that if someone is well-educated, they won’t be a drug user. The problem with that train of thought is incorrect. Many people who are well-educated can and do become addicted to opioids. While in the past, it may have been different, today it’s “affecting mainstream white America.” (Sifferlin). More people are seeing and feeling the effects of opioid addiction in America. It’s not a dirty little secret anymore because it’s too wide-spread.

There are ways to help slow down and stop the opioid crisis in America. One step is for doctors to not prescribe narcotic drugs to patients already dependent on them. The should be recommended alternatives that are not illegal but may be healthier. Perhaps visiting their doctor more regular than only when they are in pain. Another way to prevent opioid addiction is to only use the drugs as prescribed by their doctor. Doctors could also “prescribe fewer pills at lower doses” to patients with acute pain. (Reinberg) If you start to feel better, don’t continue to use the medication.

Perhaps switch to regular Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen once the worst pain is over from surgery or injury. Some of these options, may prevent people from becoming addicted to opioids.

A key for addicts is to get counseling for their drug addiction. Speaking to someone on a regular basis may help people from overdosing. One of Reinberg’s sources says that “addicted patients seem to benefit from a connection with a counselor.” That would be one way that they may feel they are not alone and may reach out for help. Example, if the person is feeling depressed or anxious they could simply call their counselor for some support.

There are lawsuits going on regarding the tactics that pharmaceutical companies used to market their drug. State governments have also filed lawsuits against them have “taken a page from tobacco litigation, arguing that companies created financial costs for the state because of the widespread addiction.” (Semuels) The lawsuits seek “restitution for Ohio consumers and compensation for the state’s Department of Medicaid.” (Semuels) Most deal with the amount people and Medicaid paid for opioid prescriptions. This doesn’t even begin to mention the cost of rehab. The issue with the lawsuits is that the pharmaceutical companies simply go back and blame the patient for not using the drug correctly.

If everyone knew the real dangers and consequences of the possibility of opioid addition, perhaps people would not abuse opioids. They listen to their doctors, pharmacists, or their bodies regarding using the drugs. This would stop some people from using the drugs inappropriately and not become addicted. It would also prevent overdoses and deaths. This would allow opioid epidemic to cease to exist.

Although most people blame the addicts who are addicted to opioids, they are not all to blame for the epidemic. In fact, people may be prescribed the drugs for the wrong reasons, they may also be using them inappropriately or the drug should not have been pushed so much by the drug companies. People also believe that the drug companies are to blame for the opioid epidemic. Although most people blame the addicts, they are not all to blame for the epidemic. In fact, there are a combination of factors that may be to blame including pharmaceutical companies, doctors, the government and addicts.

Works Cited

  1. Fry, Erika. “Who Americans Blame Most for The Opioid Epidemic.” Fortune, Fortune, 21 June 2017, fortune.com/2017/06/21/opioid-epidemic-blame-doctors/.
  2. McGreal, Chris. “Don’t Blame Addicts for America’s Opioid Crisis. Here Are the Real Culprits | Chris McGreal.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 13 Aug. 2017, www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/13/dont-blame-addicts-for-americas-opioid-crisis-real-culprits.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Opioid Overdose Crisis.” NIDA, 22 Jan. 2019, www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/opioid-overdose-crisis.
  4. “Opioid (Narcotic) Pain Medications: Dosage, Side Effects, and More.” WebMD, WebMD, 2012, www.webmd.com/pain-management/guide/narcotic-pain-medications#1.
  5. “Opiate vs. Opioid – What’s the Difference?” Opium.com, 2019, opium.com/derivatives/opiate-vs-opioid-whats-difference/.
  6. “Opioid Crisis Fast Facts.” CNN, Cable News Network, 17 Jan. 2019, www.cnn.com/2017/09/18/health/opioid-crisis-fast-facts/index.html.
  7. Reinberg, Steven. “3 Ways to Help Stop the Opioid Epidemic.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, 28 June 2017, www.cbsnews.com/news/3-ways-to-stop-the-opioid-epidemic-painkiller-addiction/.
  8. Semuels, Alana. “Are Pharmaceutical Companies to Blame for the Opioid Epidemic?” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 2 June 2017, www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/06/lawsuit-pharmaceutical-companies-opioids/529020/.
  9. Sifferlin, Alexandra. “The Problem with Treating Chronic Pain with Opioids in America.” Time, Time, 12 Jan. 2015, time.com/3663907/treating-pain-opioids-painkillers/.
  10. Silvestrini, Elaine. “Prescription Addiction: Big Pharma and the Opioid Epidemic.” Drugwatch.com, 15 Dec. 2017, www.drugwatch.com/featured/opioid-crisis-big-pharma/.
  11. Sullivan, Andrew. “Americans Invented Modern Life. Now We’re Using Opioids to Escape It.” Daily Intelligencer, Intelligencer, 20 Feb. 2018, nymag.com/intelligencer/2018/02/americas-opioid-epidemic.html.
  12. Whitaker, Bill. “Did the FDA Ignite the Opioid Epidemic?” CBS News, CBS Interactive, 24 Feb. 2019, www.cbsnews.com/news/opioid-epidemic-did-the-fda-ignite-the-crisis-60-minutes/.
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Who is to Blame for the Opioid Crisis in America?. (2021, Mar 20). Retrieved June 26, 2022 , from
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