The Overuse of Prescription Drugs in America

Medicine has been around for thousands of years in human society, although not as beneficial as it stands today. Diagnosing diseases and illnesses, administering injections, prescribing medication, and recommending courses of action to take have all helped humans maintain higher quality of living. The research and practice of medicine has obviously allowed the average person to live longer. In 1900, the world’s average life expectancy was a mere 31 years of age. Today, the average person is expected to live more than 70 years, nearing 90 years of age in the world’s most advanced and established countries.

While medicine is undoubtedly a modern marvel, the overuse of prescription drugs in America is a public health issue. Today’s most commonly abused type of medication is prescription opioids. While people have used the poppy plant and its opium latex for thousands of years in treating health issues and for recreation, prescription opioids are far worse than anything seen before. Opioid abuse is by far the world medical problem in America today regarding medications, although drugs used to treat anxiety, sleep problems, and ADHD are also commonly abused.

The history of opioid use in America

Morphine and codeine both naturally exist in poppy plants as alkaloids, although they were isolated, extracted, and used in the early 1800s. However, these drugs were often abused and caused significant physical and mental withdrawal symptoms. In the late 1800s, pharmaceutical giant Bayer developed, advertised, and distributed prescription formulations of heroin as a less addictive form of morphine.

Widespread proliferation of semi-synthetic opioids

Today, we know heroin is highly addictive. However, history often repeats itself. In the mid-1990s, Purdue Pharmaceuticals developed OxyContin, an extended-release formulation of painkiller oxycodone, also derived from poppy plants. OxyContin quickly became one of the most popular painkillers on the medical market, as it was marketed as a non-addictive opioid in alternative to other painkillers.

OxyContin proved to be highly addictive, just as heroin did, and was easily abused. In 2009, the drug’s manufacturer began creating tablets in non-abusable formulations, hoping to combat opioid abuse. While people in future generations won’t be able to abuse OxyContin as easily as Americans could before, this formulation switch prompted people to start using heroin.

Switching to heroin

Around 2012, doctors in the United States began prescribing opioids less frequently and in smaller amounts. With fewer prescription opioids on the black market, their price skyrocketed. The combination of fewer opioid painkillers in circulation and their rising cost facilitated situations for opioid abusers to opt for street heroin, cheaper than illegally-sourced opioids. Prescription drug production is regulated, making sure all tablets and solutions are made identically and in safe dosages. The manufacture and trade of street drugs, however, isn’t overseen by any regulatory bodies. As such, the potency of each and every batch differs, with many batches adulterer with super-powerful, synthetic opioids like fentanyl and carfentanyl, able to cause overdose many times easier than with heroin.

This results in an exorbitantly high amount of overdoses in our great nation, deeply saddened by this epidemic.

Regulatory bodies in the United States have encouraged doctors to write fewer prescriptions for opioids and have educated them on the dangers of opioids. The opioid epidemic is likely to slow in coming years, although there’s no immediate remedy to the harm legally-produced painkillers and illicit heroin has caused.