Be safe with opioids


It’s become a national crisis. It’s been all over the news for years. Opioid abuse is a serious public health issue.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 90 Americans die every day after overdosing on opioids. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the costs for health care, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice work related to prescription opioid misuse total $78.5 billion a year.

What are opioids?

Opioids are prescription drugs used to treat pain, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, and others. Illegal drugs such as heroin and fentanyl are also opioids. While prescription opioids are generally safe when taken for a short time as prescribed by a doctor, they can be misused by taking them in a different way or in a larger dose than prescribed. Regular use can lead to dependence, overdose incidents, and death.

What are the issues?

The NIDA lists the following statistics on opioids:

  • Roughly 21–29% of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them
  • About 8–12% develop an opioid use disorder
  • An estimated 4–6% who misuse prescription opioids transition to heroin
  • About 80% of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids

Another concern is that people other than the person who is prescribed these medications are using them. More than half of prescription drug abusers get the drugs from a friend or relative, according to a September 2017 report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

What is being done?

In response to the opioid crisis, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has zeroed in on five priorities:

  1. Improve access to treatment and recovery services
  2. Promote use of overdose-reversing drugs
  3. Strengthen our understanding of the epidemic through better public health surveillance
  4. Provide support for cutting-edge research on pain and addiction
  5. Advance better practices for pain management

HHS is working to increase the safe and effective treatment of pain through its “Healthy People 2020” program. The Food and Drug Administration has established an Opioid Policy Steering Committee to bring together senior leaders from that organization to explore and develop new tools and strategies to fight opioid abuse. The FDA also established new safety warnings for opioid drugs in 2016 and is working to improve access to a drug called naloxone, which is used to treat opioid addiction.

What help is available?

If you or a loved one is having issues with opioid use or abuse, you can visit the Wisconsin Department of Health Services website for information on treatment and choosing a health care provider to assist you.

For more information on opioids, visit our online Health Center, and search on “opioid” for a list of helpful documents.

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