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What is the Opioid Crisis?

The opioid epidemic or opioid crisis is the rapid increase in the use of prescription and non-prescription opioid drugs in the United States and Canada beginning in the late 1990s and continuing throughout the first two decades of the 2000s.

What Are Opioids?

Opioids are a class of strong painkillers, including oxycodone (commonly sold under the trade names OxyContin and Percocet), hydrocodone (Vicodin), and a very strong painkiller, fentanyl, which is synthesized to resemble other opiates such as opium-derived morphine and heroin.

What Are Opioids Used For?

Opiates such as morphine have been used for pain relief in the United States since the 1800s. They are primarily used to treat moderate to severe pain that may not respond well to other pain medications.

Opioid drugs work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and other areas of the body. They reduce the sending of pain messages to the brain and reduce feelings of pain.

Facts About the Opioid Crisis

  • Roughly 21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them.
  • Between 8 and 12 percent develop an opioid use disorder.
  • An estimated 4 to 6 percent who misuse prescription opioids transition to heroin.
  • About 80 percent of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids.
  • Opioid overdoses increased 30 percent from July 2016 through September 2017 in 52 areas in 45 states.
  • The Midwestern region saw opioid overdoses increase 70 percent from July 2016 through September 2017.
  • Opioid overdoses in large cities increase by 54 percent in 16 states.

Facts from The National Institute on Drug Abuse. 

How Did Opioid Use Become a Crisis?

In the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies removed doubts and fears in doctors that pain relievers could be highly addictive. Big pharma reassured the medical community that patients would not become addicted to prescription opioid pain relievers, and healthcare providers began to prescribe them at greater rates.

Opioid overdose rates began to increase. In 2015, more than 33,000 Americans died as a result of an opioid overdose. On October 26, 2017, President Donald Trump declared the country's opioid crisis a "public health emergency".

Canada has recently broken the record for annual opioid-related deaths as the crisis worsens. According to a recent article by Global news, The Public Health Agency of Canada released updated figures that detailed 2,946 deaths believed to stem from opioids across the country in 2016 and at least 2,923 from January to September of last year, the majority of them accidental. PHAC estimates that the total number of deaths in 2017 will be more than 4,000.

Is There a Solution to the Opioid Crisis?

Solving the opioid crisis is not an easy or quick fix. The problem itself has been progressing from the late 1900's into 2018 and will take a specific approach to correct. The United States and Canadian government are focusing on five major areas:

  1. Improving access to treatment and recovery services
  2. Promoting use of overdose-reversing drugs
  3. Strengthening our understanding of the epidemic through better public health surveillance
  4. Providing support for cutting-edge research on pain and addiction
  5. Advancing better practices for pain management

Advancing Better Practices for Pain Management

The opioid crisis has caused us to stop and reevaluate the way we remedy painful symptoms. Whether an individual is using painkillers for acute pain conditions or chronic pain, harsh drugs are dangerous. New innovative technologies such as TENS therapy can help pain relief, a market that is saturated with invasive and harsh drug treatments.

TENS therapy is also capable of blocking pain signals from reaching the brain, is affordable, can be used at home, and contains no harsh drugs or chemical. The advancement of technology could help pain sufferers move away from addictive or harsh medication and start feeling in control of their pain and their life.


  1. Global News. "Canada breaks record for annual opioid-related deaths as crisis worsens." Retrieved from https://globalnews.ca/news/4110583/opioid-deaths-canada-2017/
  2. The National Institute on Drug Abuse. Opioid Overdose Crisis. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/opioid-overdose-crisis
  3. WebMD. Opioid (Narcotic) Pain Medications. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/guide/narcotic-pain-medications#1
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