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The Opioid Epidemic


What are Opioids?


Opiates and opioids are classes of depressant analgesics derived from or chemically similar to substances found in the opium poppy. They include both naturally occurring and synthetic substances.

Opioids are all substances with opium-like effects, including opiates, semi-synthetic opioids derived from morphine (such as heroin, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxycodone, and oxymorphone), and synthetic opioids which are not derived from morphine (such as fentanyl, buprenorphine, and methadone).


Why is this happening?


Heroin use is increasing across all social classes in Onondaga county similar to state and national trends. Two main reasons for this troubling trend are:

  • Increased use of prescription opiate pain medications

  • Availability of cheap heroin

Heroin is illegal in the United States and is both physically and psychologically highly addictive. It can be injected, inhaled or snorted, and is the fastest-acting opioid.  Large doses of heroin can cause fatal respiratory depression. Despite the dangers associated with heroin use, its use has increased in recent years. The percentage of current heroin users aged 12 or older in 2016 was higher than the percentages in most years between 2002 and 2013, but it was similar to the percentages in 2014 and 2015. Acording to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Admininstration (SAMHSA)in 2016, there were 11.8 million past year opioid misusers aged 12 or older in the United States, the vast majority of whom misused prescription pain relievers. Specifically, 11.5 million people aged 12 or older in 2016 misused prescription pain relievers in the past year compared with 948,000 people who used heroin

Prescription pain relievers can be abused illegally for their opioid effects by those without prescriptions or a medical need. Some commonly abused or illegally resold pain relievers include: Hydrocodone (Vicodin), Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet, Percodan), Morphine, Codeine and Methadone.


Three-Pronged Approach

Risk Factors for Heroin Abuse or Dependence

  • History of prescription opioid pain medications
  • Past or current substance abuse
  • Untreated psychiatric disorders
  • Younger age
  • Social or family environments that encourage misuse

According to the CDC, the likelihood of heroin addiction doubles with the alcohol use, triples with Marijuana use, increases 15 times over with Cocaine and 40 times over with the use of prescription opiates.

Negative Health Consequences of Opioids and Heroin

  • Strong sense of euphoria, dependence, constipation, sedation, respiratory depression, withdrawal symptoms with abrupt discontinuation and in exteme situations death can occur.
  • When used intravenously it increases the chance of contracting HIV, hepatitis B and C or developing a bacterial infection.
  • Use during pregnancy results in exposure of babies to these drugs, results in neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). There has been a significant increase in incidences of NAS nationally (NEJM).
  • Increase in fatalities due to motor vehicle accidents.



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