Opioids kill tens of thousands of people every year, and it is predicted to kill many thousands more before we find a solution. But, as Americans, we should have seen this coming. We only need to look back through history to see that we have suffered many drug epidemics in our nation through the decades. That part of our history has been forgotten, or we are in denial about the fact that we weren’t paying attention while the opioid crisis became so widespread.

More than 45,000 people have died from opioid overdoses proving that this is the deadliest drug problem we’ve ever faced. Another distressing problem is that only about 10 percent of people who suffer from opioid addiction get the specialized treatment they need. Even though we’ve seen drug epidemics before, we could not have predicted the massive scale of the opioid crisis today.

Let’s take a look at some of our past drug epidemics and get an idea of how we can learn from our mistakes.

Underestimating the Power of the Pill

Early in the 19th century, medical professionals were responsible for the drug epidemic. Most of them considered morphine as a wonder drug. It was widely used for pain, alcoholism, diarrhea, and nervous disorders. Not only were homemakers, war veterans, and many others addicted to the drug, many doctors became addicts themselves. Part of the reason for morphine’s popularity is due to few alternatives for pain. Aspirin wasn’t available until the late 1890s.

Also in the 19th century, opium abuse became a problem of epic proportions. As with morphine, doctors overprescribed the painkiller. During the American Revolution, Continental and British armies used opium for treating wounded or sick soldiers. The Civil War was the beginning of America’s opiate epidemic, however. More than 10 million opium pills were issued to treat soldiers. These soldiers returned home addicted and suffering withdrawals. They needed something for pain, and morphine became the solution.

When the hypodermic syringe was introduced in 1856, it was widely used to inject morphine. Again, the medical community underestimated the dangers of morphine. They also didn’t have many alternatives for treating pain, so the warnings about adverse effects were pushed aside.

Beginning in the 1870s, Chinese immigrants were operating opium dens in major cities and towns. The dens were popular with Chinese immigrant workers as well as white Americans. When a law passed in 1909 limiting the supply of opium, prices rose from $4 to $50 for a “can of hop.” The price increased pushed addicts to seek more potent opiates like heroin or morphine.

America’s Opioid Crisis and Opiate Epidemics: 120 Years to Learn a Lesson

Looking at the history of morphine and opium addictions in the 1800s, we see the similarities to today’s opiate epidemic. For instance, part of the opiate crisis today is due to high prices for prescription drugs, just as it happened back in last century.

In recent years, when the government cracked down on opiates, they forced pharmaceutical companies to create a pill that would be hard to crush. This action drove up the price of the drugs and people who were addicted to painkillers sought cheaper alternatives such as morphine or heroin. So, once again, to control one epidemic, we started another.  After 120 years, we should have learned more.

Today, as people turn to heroin as an alternative to pricey opiates, many of them suffer overdoses. This happens because, unlike prescription pills, the quality of heroin is not controlled. When someone buys heroin from a street dealer, they don’t know about the other drugs or chemicals that it contains. Today’s heroin can be laced (cut) with fentanyl, rat poison, painkillers, caffeine, laundry detergent, and more.  This dangerous drug is a big part of today’s opioid crisis.

Can We Learn from Our Past Mistakes?

In the U.S. today, lawmakers and the medical community are joining forces to come up with better methods for treating chronic pain. Tighter controls on opiate prescribing methods is another way to bring down the number of addictions. For instance, the Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs) are making headway. A PDMP is an electronic database that tracks controlled substance prescriptions. Most states require health care providers to check the PDMP before prescribing a controlled substance.

Another method for controlling opiates has to do with stricter controls in hospitals. The FDA, CDC, and DEA are scrutinizing the record-keeping methods involving controlled substances administered to patients.

Across the nation, thousands of organizations and individuals are spreading awareness about the dangers of prescription drugs. For example, MADD, DARE, NCADD, SAMHSA, and many more advocates for education and prevention work tirelessly to make a difference and save lives.

If you would like to know more about the opioid crisis in American today, call our toll-free number to speak with one of our knowledgeable representatives.

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