louisiana NEWS

Opioid Abuse: A National Epidemic

In an article written by David J. Holcombe, M.D. in Cenla Focus, the abuse of opioids (narcotic pain relievers) in the U.S., and the ever growing number of opioid-related deaths in Louisiana, are highlighted.

Abuse of opioids (narcotic pain relievers) in the U.S. has increased four times over the last decade.  Deaths from opioid pain relievers have simultaneously increased at the same rate.  While states vary in their statistics, Louisiana ranks among the higher states for use and among the highest for opioid-related deaths.  Over 5% of adult Louisianans (over 225,000) engage in non-medical use of opioids, resulting in 15 deaths/100,000 residents (or around 675 deaths per year).  Sales of opioids amount to 6.8 kilograms (15lbs.)/10,000 Louisiana residents per year.

The extent of the problem is staggering since deaths are only the tip of the iceberg.  For every opioid-related death, there are 32 emergency room visits for overdose, 136 people who are addicted and 825 non-medical opioid users.  For Louisiana, this translates into 21,000 ER visits, 92,000 opioid addicts and 555,000 non-medical users (about 12% of the state’s population or the equivalent of the entire population of Jefferson Parish).

With crackdowns on the illegal use of prescription opioids, there has been a corresponding increase in heroin use.  Law enforcement personnel have likened this phenomenon to “Whack-a-mole”, where creative addicts and entrepreneurs find alternative sources when one dries up or becomes too expensive.   Florida noticed that when Oxycontin diversion (illegal use) decreased, methadone use increased proportionally.

So, where does this torrent of opioids come from?  Among users, over half of it is provided free from well-meaning friends and relatives who “share” their pain medications.  Doctors prescribe about 18%, while another 16% is stolen or purchased from family members or friends.  Drug dealers account for 4% and internet purchased make up another 1%.  Risk factors for slipping from legitimate use into abuse are: prior history of substance abuse, underlying psychiatric disorders, younger age (adolescents), and a family history of substance abuse. Read more.