Have you ever wondered how the heroin and opiate epidemic became such a large problem? The origins of this widespread issue may go back in time further than you think:
1861-1865 – During the Civil War, medics use morphine as a battlefield anesthetic. Many soldiers become dependent on morphine after the war.
1898 – Heroin is first produced commercially by the Bayer Company. At the time, heroin is believed to be less habit-forming than morphine, so it is dispensed to individuals who are addicted to morphine.
1914 – Congress passes the Harrison Narcotics Act, which requires that doctors write prescriptions for narcotic drugs like opioids and cocaine. Importers, manufacturers and distributors of narcotics must register with the Treasury Department and pay taxes on product.
1924 – The Anti-Heroin Act bans the production and sale of heroin in the United States.
1970 – The Controlled Substances Act becomes law. It creates groupings (or schedules) of drugs based on the potential for abuse. Heroin is a Schedule I drug while morphine, fentanyl, oxycodone (Percocet, OxyContin) and methadone are Schedule II. Vicodin – a hydrocodone-acetaminophen combination – was originally a Schedule III medication but wasn’t recategorized as a Schedule II drug until October 2014.
January 10, 1980 – A letter titled “Addiction Rare in Patients Treated with Narcotics” is published in the New England Journal of Medicine. It was not a study and looked at incidences of addiction in a very specific population of hospitalized patients who were closely monitored. However, it would become widely cited as proof that narcotics were a safe treatment for chronic pain.
1995 – OxyContin, a long acting version of oxycodone, which slowly releases the drug over 12 hours, is introduced and aggressively marketed as a safer pain pill by manufacturer, Purdue Pharma.
May 10, 2007 – The federal government brings criminal charges against Purdue Pharma for misleadingly advertising OxyContin as safer and less addictive than other opioids. The company and three executives are charged with “misleading and defrauding physicians and consumers.” Purdue Pharma and the executives plead guilty, agreeing to pay a $634.5 million in criminal and civil fines. The three executives plead guilty on criminal misdemeanor charges and are later sentenced to probation.
2010 – FDA approves an “abuse-deterrent” formulation of OxyContin, to help curb abuse. However, people still find ways to abuse it.
May 20, 2015 – The DEA announces that it has arrested 280 people, including 22 doctors and pharmacists, after a 15-month sting operation centered on health care providers who dispense large amounts of opioids. The sting, dubbed Operation Pilluted, is the largest prescription drug bust in the history of the DEA.
March 18, 2016 – The CDC publishes guidelines for prescribing opioids for patients with chronic pain. Recommendations include prescribing over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen and ibuprofen in lieu of opioids. Doctors are encouraged to promote exercise and behavioral treatments to help patients cope with pain.
March 29, 2017 – President Donald Trump signs an executive order calling for the establishment of the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is selected as the chairman of the group, with Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as an adviser.
July 31, 2017 – After a delay, the White House panel examining the nation’s opioid epidemic releases its interim report, asking President Trump to declare a national public health emergency to combat the ongoing crisis
September 22, 2017 – The pharmacy chain CVS announces that it will implement new restrictions on filling prescriptions for opioids, dispensing a limited seven-day supply to patients who are new to pain therapy.
November 1, 2017 – The opioid commission releases its final report. Its 56 recommendations include a proposal to establish nationwide drug courts that would place opioid addicts in treatment facilities rather than prison.
February 9, 2018 – A budget agreement signed by President Trump authorizes $6 billion for opioid programs, with $3 billion allocated for 2018 and $3 billion allocated for 2019.
February 27, 2018 – Attorney General Jeff Sessions announces a new opioid initiative: the Prescription Interdiction & Litigation (PIL) Task Force. The mission of the task force is to support local jurisdictions that have filed lawsuits against prescription drugmakers and distributors.
March 19, 2018 – The Trump administration outlines an initiative to stop opioid abuse. The three areas of concentration are law enforcement and interdiction; prevention and education via an ad campaign; and job-seeking assistance for individuals fighting addiction.
April 9, 2018 – The US surgeon general issues an advisory recommending that Americans carry the opioid overdose-reversing drug, naloxone. A surgeon general advisory is a rarely used tool to convey an urgent message. The last advisory issued by the surgeon general, more than a decade ago, focused on drinking during pregnancy.
May 1, 2018 – The Journal of the American Medical Association publishes a study that finds synthetic opioids like fentanyl caused about 46% of opioid deaths in 2016. That’s a three-fold increase compared with 2010, when synthetic opioids were involved in about 14% of opioid overdose deaths. It’s the first time that synthetic opioids surpassed prescription opioids and heroin as the primary cause of overdose fatalities.
June 7, 2018 – White House announces a new multimillion dollar public awareness advertising campaign to combat opioid addiction. The first four ads of the campaign are all based on true stories illustrating the extreme lengths young adults have gone to get a hold of the powerful drugs.
The raw numbers behind the heroin and opiate crisis have reached epidemic levels and continue to climb. Experts on statistics at the Center for Disease Control are alarmed; by their estimate, heroin-related deaths have increased over 700% since the 2012 Census. Numbers illustrate the cold-hard truth: heroin addiction is not going anywhere.
Every year in this country more people die from heroin overdose than from cancer, vehicular homicide, and gun-related homicide.
NJ is a port state, where imports of heroin and opiates flood the illegal market. Since NJ is the first stop on the heroin superhighway, the drugs are less tampered with. As a result, Heroin in New Jersey is forty percent more pure than the national average.
During 2016, there were more than 63,600 overdose deaths in the United States, including 42,249 that involved an opioid (66.4%). That’s an average of 115 opioid overdose deaths each day.
Three out of four heroin users transitioned from prescription pills to injecting street heroin.
In 2013, the cost of medical care and substance abuse treatment for opioid addiction and overdose was an estimated $78.5 billion.
(sources: CNN, CDC and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration.)
The facts validate our mission at Tigger House Foundation. One does not need to look far in the community to see how heroin addiction has had devastating consequences. There is hope, there is help. Together we can fight addiction, spread awareness, and save lives.