The 4th Wave of the Opioid Epidemic
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According to the CDC, there were approximately 75,673 opioid overdose deaths in the United States one year that ended on April 2021, a drastic increase of 35% from the 56,064 deaths during that same time the previous year.
As a team of researchers in the U.S. now predicted in a paper found in the journal JAMA Network Open, that stunning statistic is about to get a lot worse.
Looking at data from the CDC on opioid overdose deaths between 1999 and 2020, the Manager of the Buehler Center for Health Policy and Economics at Northwestern University and lead author Dr. Lori Ann Post, along with her colleagues, portrayed how America’s opioid crisis, which has killed more than 500,000 lives so far, it has happened in three distinct waves.
The first wave occurred in 1999, when opioid prescription rates began to rise. Drugs such as Percocet, Oxycontin, and Vicodin hit the mainstream, leading unknown patients to become addicted typically after a medical procedure.
A minor second wave happened a decade later when overdose deaths due to heroin spiked. Then, in 2013, a surprising third wave happened, fueled by the rise of illegal fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50-100 times stronger than morphine.
Post and colleagues discovered that opioid overdose deaths are skyrocketing throughout the United States, from towns and cities to suburbs and urban areas.
This alarming increase is due to the COVID-19 pandemic and stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamines to illicit opioids.
The results of these strong intoxicants are so powerful that it is even weakening the life-saving effects of overdose-reversing pharmaceuticals such as naloxone.
Naloxone, which is usually given as a nasal spray from the brand name Narcan, can reverse an opioid overdose within minutes by binding to opioid receptors which are found all over the body, destroying any opioids that have been plugged into the receptors which were slowing the body’s function to a standstill.
Naloxone efficiently gives the body an astounding jump start from almost death.
Though the scientists’ prediction of “massive death” is awful, it calls for quick action, not despair. “We have to look at opioid overdose prevention and addiction immediately,” Post said.
With $38 billion in opioid settlement money coming to the states and localities from pharmaceutical makers such as Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson, AbbVie, and Teva Pharmaceuticals, there will be copious amounts of resources to give out free, medication-assisted therapy to those dealing with opioid addiction, raise awareness about the dangers of opioids, and seriously punish the individuals flooding communities with these killer drugs.