Your Track to Health: IMPORTANT INFORMATION: America’s Opioid Epidemic

Published: Jun 21 2017 8:36AM

IMPORTANT INFORMATION: America’s Opioid Epidemic

The U.S. is facing an opioid overdose epidemic. Prescriptions for opioids have quadrupled since 1999, as have opioid overdose deaths. In fact, an estimated 91 Americans die from opioid-related overdoses every day. 

About opioids and addiction

Opioid medications are usually prescribed to treat chronic pain. Chronic pain is pain that lasts longer than three months or goes beyond normal tissue healing time. But people can become addicted to opioids when they don’t take the medication as their doctor prescribes. With addiction, changes take place in the brain that can affect their behavior. The pleasurable effects of the drug create a strong urge or compulsion to keep taking the drug. This can lead to overdose or even death.

Progress in prescribing  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued guidelines for providers, offering recommendations for prescribing opioids for chronic pain. The guidelines are designed to help curb abuse and stop the growing number of opioid-related hospitalizations and deaths from overdoses. The goal is also to help improve patient care through careful consideration of when and how these medications are prescribed. 

When opioids are necessary, the guidelines suggest that doctors prescribe the lowest doses for the shortest amount of time. However, whether you’re being prescribed an opioid or another medication, make sure to ask your doctor questions about the new prescription. 

If you or someone you love has a problem with drugs, get tips on how to help at the National Institute on Drug Abuse or National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.

Take precautions – talk to your doctor

Be your own advocate. If your doctor prescribes a new medication, these questions may help you start a conversation:
• Is this the right medication for me? Do I have other options?
• How long do you think I will need to take this medication?
• What are the potential side effects of this medication?
• Can I take this opioid if I have a history of addiction?
• What if I'm taking other medications?
• Is it okay to share this medication with others?

Know the signs

If you think you or someone you know has become addicted to opioids or other pain medications, get help. Here are a few signs to watch for:
• Powerlessness to take only what is prescribed by the doctor
• Drowsiness and lack of coordination
• Changes in appearance
• More irritable or agitated than usual
• Low motivation to fulfill normal responsibilities

For more help 

If you’re concerned about yourself, a family member or someone you know who may have an opioid or other pain medication addiction, you can call United Behavioral Health at 1-866-850-6212 to talk confidentially with a health care professional. Or, go to, using the access code Railroad, to learn more. If you suspect an opioid or any other drug overdose, call 911 immediately. 

The material contained in this article has been selected to provide background and useful information. It is not designed to replace either medical advice or medical treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified physician or health provider for medical diagnosis and treatment.


Primary sources:
FDA. What to ask your doctor before taking opioids. Accessed April 21, 2017 Opioid addiction. Accessed April 21, 2017
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Understanding the epidemic. Accessed April 21, 2017.
National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. Signs and symptoms. Accessed April 21, 2017.
Other consulted sources:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC guideline for prescribing opioids for chronic pain. Accessed April 21, 2017.
Kolodny A, Courtwright DT, Hwang CS, Kreiner P, Eadie JL, Clark TW, Alexander GC. The prescription opioid and heroin crisis: A public health approach to an epidemic of addiction. Annual Review of Public Health, 2015; 36:559-574. Accessed April 21, 2017.

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