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Over the past fifteen years, opiates have become the most prevalent drug issue in the United States. Every year tens of thousands of people will pass away due to a drug overdose. The number of deaths related to drugs has increased significantly since the mid-1990s. According to data released by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) nearly 72,000 US citizens died in 2017 due to an overdose, this is a substantial jump from 2016. Opiates were the cause or involved in nearly 70% of all these overdose deaths, that’s almost 60,000 opiate-related deaths. Backtrack to 1999, when substances like fentanyl and carfentanil were nearly nonexistent, there was a fraction of opiate-related overdoses that year (approximately 6,150). It is clear that there is a serious issue occurring throughout the United States, but how did we get here, and more importantly how do we get out of it?

The Rise of Pill Mills

In the early to mid-2000s our country saw a massive influx in the use and abuse of prescription painkillers, such as OxyContin, Percocet, and Vicodin. These pills were around prior to this time, but it seemed that in just a night’s time that they were in our schools and soon became a national concern. These pills have an extremely high rate of abuse and addiction. When someone uses prescription opiates on a daily basis for a week, they will develop a level of physical and mental dependence. The longer they use, the more severe their addiction will become. Intense physical withdrawals accompanied by mental stressors and powerful cravings are extremely difficult to overcome, especially without the help of an opiate detox center.

Prescription opiates seemed to be in every nook and cranny of the United States. When law enforcement officials tracked the pills to their source the trail continued to end in the Sunshine State. Florida, especially South Florida, was home to hundreds of crooked doctor offices and pain management clinics. These establishments made it extremely easy for nearly anyone to receive a large number of prescription painkillers for minimal reasons. The pill mills in South Florida had found a loophole and were flooding the streets with hundreds of mills of pills every year. Hundreds of thousands of prescriptions for pills like OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet, morphine, and Hydrocodone were filled throughout the US for nearly a decade.

It didn’t take long for the abundance of these pill mills to become known to those seeking out powerful mood and mind-altering drugs. People began traveling from all around the United States to visit these doctor offices. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for those coming to Florida for these pills to stop at multiple doctor offices throughout their time in the state. This was referred to as “doctor shopping” which soon became the norm. Doctor shopping was happening every day, but law enforcement had no way to track how many pills one individual was receiving. The United State’s streets became flooded with these medications that can easily ruin someone’s life. Soon rehabs throughout the country saw a massive influx of people seeking help for opiate addiction issues. This happened for years, until 2009 when a new surveillance system was established and put into action.

E-FORCSE (Electronic-Florida Online Reporting of Controlled Substance Evaluation Program) became Florida’s prescription drug monitoring program. It was created by the Florida Legislature as an initiative to encourage safer prescribing of controlled substances like prescription opiates.  There were hopes that it would help decrease drug abuse rates throughout the country.  By limiting the number of prescription painkillers one could receive on a monthly basis, officials hoped they would see a steep decline in the number of people struggling with opiate abuse issues. Sadly, the damage had already been done. Since the implementation of this prescription drug monitoring program, there has been a steady decline in the number of dangerous pills being prescribed and used, but there was a sever demand that had to be filled.

Heroin Becomes a Nation Issue

The supply of pills had dropped substantially, but the nation had become addicted to opiates. As the number of pills available dropped, the street price of pills increased. Pills that were sold for $10 were soon sold for three times that amount. People who were physically and mentally hooked on opiates sought out a more affordable way to support their addiction. Soon that void was filled by heroin, a more powerful and cheaper alternative to prescription painkillers. Heroin sales soon skyrocketed throughout the country as thousands of addicts turned to the drug.

It didn’t take long for the demand for heroin to become too large, and soon the supply of this drug couldn’t meet the need. Many drug dealers began combing fentanyl with their heroin. This helped keep their out of pocket costs at a minimum without decreasing the potency of the drug they were selling. Fentanyl is far more potent and deadly than any prescription pill, just a few specs of this drug can cause an overdose in a full-grown adult man. Soon emergency responders began seeing a terrifying rise in opiate-related deaths. In some areas like West Virginia, New Jersey, and Ohio, corner’s offices had run out of space to keep the deceased. It was clear that our country was in the middle of an opiate epidemic.

Helping Those with Opiate Addiction

Overcoming opiate addiction without the help of a detox center and rehab center is far from easy. Intense physical withdrawals such as cold sweats, diarrhea, vomiting, goosebumps, headaches, and insomnia can occur for weeks. Those struggling will also experience increased anxiety, mood swings, suicidal thoughts, intense drug cravings, upset stomach, and powerful muscle pain. Trying to overcome these issues alone is very difficult and rarely successful. Those struggling who attempt to stop using without professional help will have to face these withdrawals head-on. They may make it a day or two, but most people who attempt a cold turkey detox will relapse within the first 72 hours. This is the deadly cycle of opiate addiction. Without having an opioid in their system they will not be able to function, all of their energy will go to finding and using their substance of choice.

The best way to combat the opiate epidemic is to make treatment and detox more accessible to those who are need of help. We must work together to remove the stigma that is associated with substance abuse. People who are struggling are far less likely to seek out help if they feel that they will be judged and face severe backlash from friends and loved ones. We must welcome those struggling with open arms when they want help.

If you or someone you care about are struggling with opiate addiction and would like to know more about what options are available to you, please contact our toll-free line today. An addiction specialist is always standing by ready to help you through this difficult time in any way that they can. Calls into our phone line are always free of charge and completely confidential. Whether you would like to know more about the signs of substance abuse, want to know how to have an intervention, or are looking for a detox near you, we are here to help. The road to recovery should not be traveled alone, let us help you take the first steps on this life-changing journey.