Riverside & Greater California’s Opioid Epidemic
As rates of opioid abuse continue to rise throughout the United States, Riverside County, and the entire state of California, is reporting a disproportionally high rate of overdose from these drugs.
2014 saw the Golden State lead the nation in opioid-related deaths with an unprecedented 14,000 deaths involving prescription opioids. These staggering rates are the result of widespread prescription painkiller and opioid abuse, a mounting problem that lawmakers and public health officials are working hard to overcome.
Part of the reason for this epidemic is the alarming rate at which prescription painkillers, such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine and codeine, are being prescribed. These drugs have proven effective for mitigating the effects of moderate to severe pain in acute medical situations, and countless individuals have experienced relief by using these medications under the supervision of their physician when healing from injuries and illnesses such as cancer.
However, a trend emerged in which doctors began prescribing these drugs to treat more chronic pain, meaning that individuals were taking opioids for far longer that has been deemed medically appropriate. For some, this prolonged use meant that a chemical dependence ensued, along with a resulting substance use disorder.
Sadly, one of the unintended consequences of the rise in prescription painkiller abuse is a correlated uptick in heroin and synthetic opioid addiction. When an individual who has become dependent upon these medications can no longer obtain them from a doctor of other means, he or she will often turn to illegal substances, such as heroin, in order to achieve his or her desired high.
And unfortunately, although illegal, heroin and similar substances can often be acquired with greater ease than prescription painkillers, and at a cheaper prices, which makes these drugs enticing as substances of abuse.
In Search of Solutions
In 2015, lawmakers in California took new steps to combat the opioid epidemic that is rampant in their state, resulting in joint efforts between various state agencies to promote safe prescription practices for physicians, to educate the general public about opioid abuse and its consequences, and to increase access to medically-assisted treatment opportunities.
In addition, California has rolled out a new Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) which utilizes technology to help physicians keep tabs on the number of prescriptions their patients have at any given time. This database prevents a dangerous practice known as “doctor shopping,” which occurs when a person seeks out multiple opioid prescriptions at the same time from different doctors with the intention of acquiring greater quantities of the drug to abuse.
The need for addiction treatment programs and support to assist those who have become embedded in the country’s opioid crisis can be seen throughout the nation, and this need is no more apparent than in counties like Riverside.
Fortunately, stakeholders are coming together in a united front to combat the deadly effects of the disease of opioid addiction in California, and access to care in the form of various public health initiatives and treatment centers is growing.