Oxygen Insider Exclusive!

Create a free profile to get unlimited access to exclusive videos, breaking news, sweepstakes, and more!

Sign Up for Free to View
Crime News Mysteries & Scandals

5 Alarming Facts About The American Opioid Crisis

Everyone is talking about the opioid crisis. Here's what you need to know.

By Sowmya Krishnamurthy
OJ Simpson The Crimes and Punishment Sneak Peek: Tom Riccio

The opioid crisis in America has been declared a national health emergency. In October 2017, President Donald Trump said that the crisis affects all citizens. “No part of our society — not young or old, rich or poor, urban or rural — has been spared this plague of drug addiction and this horrible, horrible situation that’s taken place with opioids,” he said. “This epidemic is a national health emergency.” Drug addiction has taken the lives of many celebrities. Oxygen delves into these stories and the trouble with bad medicine on Mysteries & Scandals (premiering January 5).


Here are 5 alarming facts about the opioid crisis. 

Opioids Are Incredibly Addictive

Opioids can either be illegal or prescribed. As CNN reports, they are dangerous because of how addictive they are. The medications bind to areas of the brain that control pain and emotions. The hormone dopamine is spiked and produces a feeling of happiness and euphoria. A tolerance can develop. The brain quickly gets used to this "high" and over time, it takes more and more drugs to create that same sensation. This turns into addiction.

A Prescription Can Be A Gateway Drug

There are many prescribed opioids, including codeine and oxymorphone hydrochloride. Many people get so addicted to these medications that they turn to illegal substances, namely heroin. According to CNN's Sanjay Gupta, opioid pills and heroin are similar. Both are derived from the poppy plant and bind to the same receptors in the brain. Since heroin is much cheaper (and doesn't require a prescription), many users start using.

The Problem of Overdoses

A drug overdose is the leading cause of unintentional death in the nation. According to the Centers for Diesease Control and Prevention (CDC), opioids killed more than 33,000 people in 2015. Of these, nearly half of the deaths involved a prescription opioid. Benzodiazepines, in particular, are cited for leading to overdose deaths.

Opioids Are Prescribed A Lot

Opioids can be prescribed for a variety of illnesses. They are used to treat moderate to severe pain following injury or surgery. But the CDC shares that there's been an influx of prescriptions being written for even chronic, non-cancer pain, for common ailments including back pain or osteoarthritis.


Anyone Can Become Addicted

Anyone can become addicted to opioids. According to the CDC, as many as one in four patients using opioids long-term have become addicted. As of 2014, nearly 2 million people in this country abused prescription opioids. 

Young People Are Especially At Risk

Young people are especially at risk for opioid addiction. After marijuana, prescription and over-the-counter medications are abused commonly by young people. In a study, high school seniors shared that they were abusing drugs like Vicodin, Adderall, cough medicine and tranquilizers. Some 11.4% of young people between 12 to 25 used prescription drugs (for nonmedical purposes) over the past year.

The Cost Is High

The opioid crisis has health repercussions and can destroy families. All the addictions, illness and overdoses also come at an economic price. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the opioid crisis cost the country $78.5 billion in economic costs.

[Photo: Getty Images]

Read more about: