America has an opioid problem.
More than 20 million people have substance use disorders, the Surgeon General said in a report last year, adding that 12.5 million Americans reported misusing prescription pain relievers. Ninety-one Americans die of an opioid overdose each day, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Humans have struggled with opioids for centuries. Today, opioids are used as prescription painkillers, typically for chronic or acute pain such as a cancer or a wisdom tooth removal. The CDC reported that from 1999 to 2014, the sale of prescription opioids in the U.S. nearly quadrupled, while the amount of reported pain remained the same. The drugs have also enjoyed a sales spike on the so-called dark web, a set of websites and servers where users can purchase opioids anonymously.
Opioids target parts of our brain that release dopamine, a chemical associated with happiness, which can lead to addictive behavior. There are 48.9 million Americans using opioids or opiates, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. For those abusing the drug, quitting would mean several days of torturous withdrawal. Yet as opioid overdoses reach an all time high, doctors and other substance abuse experts are trying new methods to prevent and treat substance abuse.
How did this start? And what are we doing about it?
As a part of the PBS NewsHour series “American Addicted,” NewsHour (@NewsHour) hosted a Twitter chat at 1 p.m. ET Friday, Sept. 29 to talk about opioid use and substance abuse with Dr. Leana Wen (@DrLeanaWen), Baltimore City Health Commissioner and Dr. Sarah Wakeman (@DrSarahWakeman), medical director of the Substance Use Disorder Initiative and the Addiction Consult Team at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Check out a recap of the conversation below: