Unforeseen Side Effects Of The Ongoing Opiate Crisis

Unforeseen Side Effects Of The Ongoing Opiate Crisis

The Opiate Crisis in the Western world has had some far-reaching effects on the rest of the world.
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While other countries are struggling to provide their patients with enough opiates for cancer and chronic pain patients, the US is having the opposite problem. Though the US makes up less than 5 percent of the world’s population, it consumes close to 80 percent of the world’s Opiate supply.

The International Narcotics Control Board monitors the enforcement of restrictions on Narcotics, yet while the US appears to be overflowing with Opioids and drug overdoses, other countries appear to be struggling to give their patients the bare necessities of medicinal care.

Countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America must make do with what they have, meaning that when they don’t have the necessary Opioids to distribute to those who are truly in pain, those patients end up receiving something such as Acetaminophen, known better by its brand name Tylenol, for conditions that, in the US or Europe, would give them access to much stronger pain relievers.

David Joranson, the director of the Pain Policy Study Group for the University of Wisconsin’s medical school, said of the situation in many third world countries. “It’s the intense fear of addiction, which is often misunderstood. Pain relief hasn’t been given as much attention as the war on drugs has.”

This may be true, as the US also leads the world in drug overdose deaths, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in a report given earlier this year. In their report, they estimate that the US is responsible for close to a quarter of the world’s deaths from drug overdose. It follows logic that the more drugs that are available in a place, even if they are meant for medicinal treatments, the more abuse that can happen, leading to higher rates of death.

Yet while this fear is understandable (nobody wants to have another Opioid crisis like the US is currently experiencing), is it enough to justify people suffering from unnecessary pain and eventual death?

The Opioid crisis appears to be taking the world by storm, and not always in the way people think. Because of the risk of addiction and abuse, and the possibility of overdose deaths, the world appears to have become more afraid of anything that shows the potential for abuse.

This fear may help many countries in the world implement better laws and regulations surrounding the use of Narcotics, but for other countries who already have limited access to these resources, it can prove to be a double-edged sword, leading many to suffer unnecessarily through cancer, AIDS and chronic pain conditions with little to no relief.

So, what do we as a world do when something that can be both so helpful and harmful comes into play? How do we make sure that all those who are truly in need of relief get it, while continuing to research pain relief and look for better treatments, and stop the flow of abuse and deaths due to the disease of addiction?

There may not be a singular answer to this troubling problem, but one solution may be to increase our knowledge of and treatment for Opiate addiction. By increasing the availability of Opiate rehabilitation centers, and continuing to educate the public on what addiction is, how it starts, and the signs to look out for, we can at least calm some fears people have concerning addiction and pain treatment and, maybe, allow those who truly need treatment to safely receive it.


Cover Image Credit: Pexels

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To All The Nurses In The Making

We tell ourselves that one day it'll all pay off, but will it actually?
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I bet you’re taking a break from studying right now just to read this, aren’t you? Either at the library with friends or in your dorm room. Wherever you may be, you never get the chance to put your books down, at least that’s how it feels to most of us. It sucks feeling like you’ve chosen the hardest major in the world, especially when you see other students barely spending any time studying or doing school work. The exclamation “You’re still here!” is an all too frequent expression from fellow students after recognizing that you’ve spent 10-plus hours in the library. At first it didn’t seem so bad and you told yourself, “This isn’t so difficult, I can handle it,” but fast-forward a few months and you’re questioning if this is really what you want to do with your life.

You can’t keep track of the amount of mental breakdowns you’ve had, how much coffee you’ve consumed, or how many times you’ve called your mom to tell her that you’re dropping out. Nursing is no joke. Half the time it makes you want to go back and change your major, and the other half reminds you why you want to do this, and that is what gets you through it. The thing about being a nursing major is that despite all the difficult exams, labs and overwhelming hours of studying you do, you know that someday you might be the reason someone lives, and you can’t give up on that purpose. We all have our own reasons why we chose nursing -- everyone in your family is a nurse, it’s something you’ve always wanted to do, you’re good at it, or like me, you want to give back to what was given to you. Regardless of what your reasoning is, we all take the same classes, deal with the same professors, and we all have our moments.

I’ve found that groups of students in the same nursing program are like a big family who are unconditionally supportive of each other and offer advice when it’s needed the most. We think that every other college student around us has it so easy, but we know that is not necessarily true. Every major can prove difficult; we’re just a little harder on ourselves. Whenever you feel overwhelmed with your school work and you want to give up, give yourself a minute to imagine where you’ll be in five years -- somewhere in a hospital, taking vitals, and explaining to a patient that everything will be OK. Everything will be worth what we are going through to get to that exact moment.

Remember that the stress and worry about not getting at least a B+ on your anatomy exam is just a small blip of time in our journey; the hours and dedication suck, and it’s those moments that weed us out. Even our advisors tell us that it’s not easy, and they remind us to come up with a back-up plan. Well, I say that if you truly want to be a nurse one day, you must put in your dedication and hard work, study your ass off, stay organized, and you WILL become the nurse you’ve always wanted to be. Don’t let someone discourage you when they relent about how hard nursing is. Take it as motivation to show them that yeah, it is hard, but you know what, I made it through.

With everything you do, give 110 percent and never give up on yourself. If nursing is something that you can see yourself doing for the rest of your life, stick with it and remember the lives you will be impacting someday.

SEE ALSO: Why Nursing School Is Different Than Any Other Major

Cover Image Credit: Kaylee O'Neal

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Addiction Is A Disease, Not A Choice

It's time society stops turning a blind eye to the facts at hand.

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I recently read an article claiming that addiction is not a disease. And I'm not sorry to say, that's bullshit.

Saying that addiction is not a disease because it starts with a choice is completely discrediting the scientific facts proving that it is a disease of the brain. The American Society of Addiction Medicine classifies addiction as a chronic disease of the brain, and not without good reason.

The article mentioned above has several flaws in its argument. The first flaw in this argument is that it states that addiction is not hereditary or degenerative (which by the way, it is).

There isn't such thing as a single "addiction gene." Instead, there are biological differences, combinations of genes and differences in DNA sequences that can make people more or less susceptible to addiction, as well as certain genes being present that make it easier or harder to stop their use once addiction has begun. These genes and sequences in DNA can be passed down in families, causing those who are related to someone suffering from addiction to be more susceptible to addiction as well. The University of Utah compiled a list of genes that have been linked to playing a role in addiction which can be found here.

Studies of identical twins showed that if one twin was to experience addiction, 76 percent of the time the other twin will also experience addiction, and vice-versa.

The part that really kills me about this article is saying that addiction is not degenerative. I just don't understand how someone could have such a lack of knowledge in the role drugs play on the brain to try and say that they do not cause any deterioration of the brain.

First, we'll start with central nervous system stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamines. These drugs speed up brain activity, increase blood pressure and increase heart rate. This causes blood vessels to constrict which causes strokes and can cause blood pressure to become so high it causes sudden death. Chronic cocaine users often experience cardiac arrest or seizures due to their prolonged use. Prolonged use of meth can cause permanent damage to certain brain cells, the most prevalent being those of dopaminergic chemical signaling (causing a decrease in dopamine levels). The University of Utah performed research showing that meth users were three times more likely than non-drug users to develop Parkinson's disease due to the damage of the dopaminergic system. More studies have shown that abuse of drugs such as meth and ecstasy can have neurological consequences that are similar to that of traumatic brain injuries.

Alcoholism can cause those a deficit in vitamins such as Vitamin B1. Lack of this vitamin can cause Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, a disabling disorder that can cause paralysis of nerves controlling the eyes, problems with coordination, involuntary eye movements and double vision. 90 percent of those with this syndrome go on to develop Korsakoff's psychosis which can cause more coordination issues, trouble walking, chronic memory issues and hallucinations.

Data suggest that chronic opioid users, which includes prescription painkillers such as Vicodin, Percocet, oxycodone and heroin, modifies the function and structure of the brain that causes issues with impulse control and emotion regulation. Research also suggests that chronic heroin users will experience degeneration of white matter in the brain, which can cause issues with stress management, behavior regulation and the ability to perform decision making.

Inhalants can cause sudden death just like stimulants by causing irregular heart rate and consequently causing heart failure. But along with that, certain inhalants (such as toluene and naphthalene) can cause damage to the myelin sheath in nerves fibers which directly help conduct nerve impulses. More nerve damage due to inhalants can cause complications similar to those who suffer from multiple sclerosis, a central nervous system disease that causes issues with coordination, weakness in limbs, numbness/tremors, issues with attention/memory, and speech impediments. Chronic use of inhalants can also cause issues with movement, hearing, vision and cognition.

As you can see, chronic drug use does cause degeneration of the body and the brain.

The next part of the article that I have an issue with is the line "A patient with cancer is not cured if locked in a cell, whereas an alcoholic is automatically cured. No access to alcohol means no alcoholism." For someone who is heavily addicted to drugs, quitting cold turkey can be incredibly unsafe. There are plenty of drugs where if you were to put this person locked in a cell and force them to quit, they'll die. For some people, using these drugs long enough causes their body to literally become dependant on them to function. Sudden withdrawal can cause some serious issues. Alcohol withdrawal can cause brain damage, seizures, heart palpitation, and death. A combination of these is called delirium tremens, which occurs in up to 10 percent of all alcoholics who attempt to detox and ultimately kills 35 percent of them. In fact, Psychology Today says that quitting alcohol, benzodiazepines, and opioids cold turkey, without medical help, can kill you.

Lastly, I have an issue with this article saying "When we allow people to refer to addiction as a disease, we are placing it alongside things like cancer and that is not fair at all." Before I continue, I do not want to discredit how truly awful cancer is. That is not my intention. What I'm irritated with is people saying that addiction and cancer are not comparable. It's true that many forms of cancer develop for reasons unknown that are out of our control. But cancers such as lung cancer (caused by smoking) and melanoma (caused by prolonged exposure to the sun or UV lights, a.k.a. tanning) are things we can control. Would you look at someone with lung cancer or melanoma and say "Well, you decided to smoke/tan. It was a choice you made, so your disease is invalid"? No, you wouldn't. Would you look at someone with diabetes or heart disease and say "Well, you chose to eat poorly and not exercise, so your disease in invalid"? No, you wouldn't.

Yes, addiction starts with the choice of the person to pick up that drug. But their brain and their body literally form a dependency and it is out of their control to whether or not they form an addiction. No one wants to have cancer. No one wants to have diabetes or heart disease. And no one wants to have an addiction to drugs.

While the first use and early stage of addiction is a choice, eventually the brain will change so much that people will lose control of their behavior and will to stop because their body is dependant on the drug. Eating poorly/not exercising is a choice, smoking is a choice and tanning is a choice, yet we accept the diseases that are consequently developed from these choices. Why can we not accept that addiction is also a disease?

It's time society stops turning a blind eye to the facts at hand. Addiction is hereditary, it is degenerative, it can kill, it is a disease. By trying to force the notion that addiction is a choice and not a disease you are preventing people from seeking help from their disease because they fear the societal repercussions. Addiction is a disease, and those suffering deserve all the help that those suffering from other diseases get.

I don't care if you think addiction is a choice; you're wrong. I have presented plenty of backed up facts to prove that this belief is wrong and honestly downright stupid. If you continue to hold onto this notion, you are a part of the problem preventing those affected from getting help.

Addiction is a disease, not a choice. And it's about time we start acting like it.

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