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Opioid Epidemic: Are There Two Kinds?

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opioid epidemic In early May, The Boston Globe published a story about the opioid epidemic that is plaguing the country. In it, they say that there’s an issue with the widespread reporting of the issue: It’s not one problem, it’s actually two.

Dissecting the opioid epidemic: Time

The Globe reports that the dramatic increase in use of – and death from – opioids can be essentially divided into two distinct periods: 1999 to 2010, and 2010 to 2014.

From 1999 to 2010, overdose rates from prescription painkillers increased some 300%, a rise that can be largely attributed to the introduction to popular drugs like OxyContin to the marketplace. It describes the impact of these drugs as “widespread, breaking across regional boundaries and claiming lives all across the country.” During this time, there was a slight increase in heroin overdoses (.7 to 1.0 per 100,000), but by and large numbers for heroin were stagnant and rarely talked about.

Looking at the second set of years, 2010 to 2014, the data tells a different story. Heroin deaths have tripled during this time, while there has been a leveling of prescription drug overdoses. And, unlike the widespread destruction of the prescription epidemic, heroin use seems to be regional, with concentrations in the Northeast and Midwest. In New England, heroin plays a role in half of all overdoses. In Illinois: 64%.

Dissecting the opioid epidemic: Age and gender

A further distinction between the two addictions is the statistical rates of overdose among specific age groups. For prescription drugs, middle-aged Americans (aged 45 – 65) have the highest rate of overdose, capturing nearly 50% of all prescription overdoses. While for heroin, it’s the younger set: 25 to 34-year-olds are more likely to overdose than any other age group.

Heroin tends to kill more men, while prescription drugs seem to kill both sexes equally.

So is it two different problems?

The Boston Globe journalist points out that while there is reporting far and wide on the “opioid epidemic,” there are actually two distinct addictions happening. They’re killing different kinds of people, at different ages.

Getting help for any addiction

While the statistics he points out are factually true, what the journalist doesn’t offer is a solution to treat the addictions differently; and that’s because the treatment is frequently the same.

And really, while opioid addiction – to both prescriptions and to heroin – gets the limelight, every substance abuse disorder can be deadly in its own right.

No matter what kind of addiction you might be facing, getting professional help can offer you the care, stability and sobriety you need to get better. Alcohol, drugs, prescription or otherwise, The Watershed understands how addiction ravages the brain and the body, and we have a dedicated staff of specialists ready to take your call. Whether for you or your loved one, don’t wait another day. Get help now: 1-800-861-1768.

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