The opioid epidemic has been hitting Americans hard for the last few years.
Past drug epidemics have included heroin of the 19070s and the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s. But the current epidemic, which has its roots in the 1990s, has taken on a different tone. In particular, areas throughout the “rust belt” region of the United States—Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia—have been hit hard.
Author Sam Quinones calls these areas a “dream land” because, he says, “To the suburban kids hooked first on pills, heroin fulfilled the dream of the adventures they’d never had in their quiet town.” He continues: “Part of heroin’s new appeal was that it kept them at the edge of a hazardous yet alluring dreamland.”
Opioid addition can come in the form of abusing legal, prescription opioid pills such as Vicodin or OxyContin, or their illicit counterparts such as heroin. Quinones cites other interesting facts bout opiates and their history, including:
- The average age of a person who abuses opioids is 22
- Some prescription opiates include drugs like Vicodin, Percocet, and Lortab
- The first methadone clinic opened in 1970 in New York City
- The first law to regulate opioids was the 1914 Harrison Narcotics Act
- Human civilizations dating back to the Mesopotamians, Assyrians, and Sumerians all grew poppy of which opiates are derived
- In 1853 the wife of Alexander Wood, who invented the hypodermic needle, was the first person to die as a result of an injected opiate overdose
Roughly, 13 Pennsylvanians a day overdoses from opioids, and, in 2008, opiate overdoses overtook motor vehicle accidents as the number one accidental cause of death in the United States. “Heroin was first believed to be non-addictive,” writes Quinones. “Heroin pills were marketed as a remedy for coughs and respiratory ailments.”
In more recent years, among the many anonymous persons who have overdosed, some, such as actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who died of an opiate overdose in 2014, is one of the more famous individuals who have succumbed to opiates. In the 1940s and 1950s jazz musicians such as Charlie Parker and Sonny Rollins were at one time addicted to heroin. Others, such as novelist William Burroughs, used heroin and checked himself into a treatment facility to get clean. These are but only a small sample of individuals who had to face opioid addiction.
Unfortunately, the opioid epidemic will most likely not abate for some time. Although substance abuse in general remains problematic, opioid addiction is a problem with no clear solution. That said, however, some treatment options are available for individuals who are facing addiction. Everything from the use of legal maintenance prescription drugs to talk therapy are but some of the interventions that have been used to help individuals struggling with opioid addiction. If you or someone you know has developed an opioid addiction, contact a trained professional to seek assistance.
Quinones, S. (2015). Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic. Bloomsbury Press, New York, NY.