Opioid use and addiction has hit epidemic proportions. Read on to learn how communities can help end the crisis and how you can be of service as a citizen.

91 Americans die every day from opioid overdoses. It is an epidemic that is ravaging communities all over the country, and it’s only getting worse.

Defeating this opioid crisis can seem like an impossible task. Where do you even begin? But fighting and beating it is exactly what we must do.

Each of us needs to do their part in their own community, including you. In this article, we’ll tell you the ways in which you can be a part of the fight against opioid use.

It won’t be easy, but our communities depend on it. Read on and join the fight today.

Understanding the Opioid Crisis

First, you need to understand what opioids are. They’re a class of drugs that act as depressants and are highly addictive.

Heroin is an opioid, but so are many prescription painkillers. And in fact, when we talk about opioid use in this country, we’re often talking about painkiller abuse. Unfortunately, it’s easy to overdose on opioids, and that can lead to crisis.

The United States is in the midst of an opioid crisis of unprecedented proportions. People across the country are using opioids, becoming addicted to them, and overdosing on them like never before.

Between 2000 and 2014, the number of opioid-related deaths went up 200 percent. And according to one study, if nothing is done, another 650,000 people could die from opioid overdoses in the next 10 years.

There are many explanations for the sharp rise in opioid use, but one of the most commonly cited has to do with the way that doctors prescribe them.

Before the 1990’s, doctors only prescribed opioids for the most severe pain. But beginning in the late 1990’s, doctors began to prescribe them more readily.

This was a response to both increased pressure from pharmaceutical companies as well as increased awareness about the importance of proper pain management.

Here we are two decades later. Doctors are prescribing enough opioids to fill a bottle for every adult in the country. And drug overdoses are the number one cause of accidental death.

So what can you do about it?

Help Your Friends and Family

Solving the opioid crisis won’t be easy. It will take a multifaceted approach involving all levels of society. But the best place to start is by supporting those around you.

The widespread availability of opioids is a huge problem, but it’s not the only cause of addiction.

The main causes of addiction include mental health problems, past trauma, and existential and economic despair.

Take note of that last one: despair. Fighting opioid use and addiction means fostering a positive, supportive environment for your friends and family.

Listen to the people around you, help them when you can, and get them professional help when they need it. There’s nothing wrong with seeing a mental health professional, and breaking the stigma around mental health is an essential part of this fight.

It’s also important to learn the signs of opioid use addiction:

  • Constricted Pupils
  • Slowed Breathing
  • Confusion
  • Elation or Euphoria
  • Nodding Off
  • Constipation

If you see these signs in a loved one, especially if they’re prone to opioid use, don’t hesitate to act. Talk with them in a loving and understanding way, and help them get the help they need (more on that below).

If you have your own opioid prescriptions, make sure you dispose of any extra pills you don’t plan on using. It’s very common for opioid users to get drugs from their friends, either by asking for them or stealing them.

When you dispose of your opioids, use a special opioid disposal center (more on those below as well).

In the worst case, one of your friends or family will overdose on opioids. Luckily, there is a drug called naloxone which can be used to reverse an opioid overdose.

You can buy this drug over-the-counter in most of the country. It’s a good idea to buy some and learn how to use it, especially if you think a loved one may be dealing with opioid addiction. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

Advocate for High-Level Change

If you really want to fight the opioid epidemic in your community, you need to become an activist for change, both political and cultural. This will involve raising awareness about the specific issues that have led to the opioid crisis, as well as fighting for specific changes that will help end the crisis.

The better understand the crisis and how to defeat it, it’s easiest to divide it into two parts: stock and flow.

Stock refers to the stock of people who are already addicted to opioids. Flow refers to the potential for new people to become addicted. We need to attack both sides if we want to defeat the crisis.

Ways to Help People Who are Already Addicted to Opioid Use

You may think the answer is to take away their opioids, but it’s far more complicated than that. Opioid addicts are just that: addicted. If you take away their opioids, they’ll either go through a painful withdrawal or replace them with something worse, like heroin.

What opioid addicts need is treatment. Opioid use is a health problem, not a criminal problem nor a supply problem.

Making addiction treatment more available is the first step in helping people who are already addicted to opioid use. This will require political changes to increase funding for treatment centers, and cultural changes to reduce the stigma associated with addiction treatment.

There is especially stigma surrounding the use of methadone and buprenorphine. Doctors give these drugs to opioid addicts to reduce their cravings, but detractors claim that this is simply substituting one drug for another.

These alternative drugs don’t cause the euphoria associated with opioids. They are only used to reduce cravings and keep addicts functioning. This allows them to find a job, live their lives, and get back on their feet.

Quitting opioid use without professional help would be a herculean task; it’s an incredibly powerful drug. You certainly can’t quit cold turkey, and successfully tapering off brings its own challenges.

But with professional help, opioid addicts can recover and live full and productive lives.

Preventing People from Becoming Addicted to Opioids

Preventing opioid addiction starts with changing the medical culture. As we discussed above, doctors prescribe opioids to an alarming number of patients. And while many of those patients really do require opioids to deal with their pain, many don’t.

Doctors should look for alternative painkillers with lower addiction potentials. And they should be especially wary about prescribing opioids to people with a history of drug addiction.

When they need to prescribe opioids, they should only prescribe what’s necessary. And they should take measures to make the prescription more difficult to alter or forge.

If you aren’t a doctor, it’s hard to make these changes on your own. But you can raise awareness about them by joining a local organization.

Political advocacy is also an important weapon against the opioid crisis.

Many communities don’t have a safe place to dispose of extra pills. Helping to set up a safe disposal site is an easy step toward keeping them out of the hands of addicts.

You shouldn’t flush your prescriptions down the toilet nor throw them away, so a safe disposal site is a necessity for every community. It both gets rid of extra drugs and raises awareness about the problem.

You should also advocate for giving the police naloxone. Once again, this is a drug that can stop an overdose on the spot and save lives.

There is no reason police shouldn’t have this on them at all times. Every second counts during an overdose and police often arrive on the scene before medical professionals. It’s only politics that keeps this from being standard procedure.

And of course, we need to educate more people about opioid use and addiction.

Unfortunately, opioid use is already a part of our culture. And unless we come up with a miracle, addiction-proof painkiller, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

It’s important that we grapple with this issue head-on.

Educate your friends and family. Stage screenings of documentaries about opioid use. And advocate for better opioid education in your schools.

The better you and your community understand this problem, the better chance you have of beating it.

Get to Work

The only thing left to do is get to work. This problem won’t be solved overnight, but with the tools in this article, you help get your community on the right track.

If you enjoyed this article on opioid use, check out our other articles on health and wellness.