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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?


Opioid use has increased across all social classes in Onondaga County, similarly to state and national trends. Two main reasons for this troubling trend are:

  • Increased use of prescription opiate pain medications

  • Availability of cheap heroin

According to the CDC, One in 14 Americans reports experiencing a substance use disorder. There is not one single driving factor that leads to addiction. Some people may use drugs to help cope with stress, trauma, or to help with mental health issues. Some may even develop opioid use disorder after misusing opioids they are prescribed by doctors. In any case, using drugs over time makes it easier to become addicted.


Substance use disorder (SUD)

Substance use disorder (SUD) occurs when a person’s use of drugs or alcohol results in health issues or problems in their work, school, or home life.1 Education and awareness around the harm of using substances, along with the support of friends, parents, and caregivers, can help prevent SUD.



Opioid use disorder (OUD)

Opioid use disorder (OUD) occurs when chronic opioid use causes significant suffering and damage. About 1.6 million people in the United States suffer from OUD. Prescription drug monitoring programs, state prescription drug laws, and education around safe storage and disposal can help in prevent prescription opioid misuse, OUD, and overdose.


The CDC reports that nearly 841,000 people have died since 1999 from a drug overdose. Currently, synthetic opioids like fentanyl are the main driver of drug overdose deaths, with 72.9% of opioid-related overdoses deaths involving synthetic opioids.




Overdose Deaths

Risk Factors for Heroin Use 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
  • Other drug use

According to the CDC, the likelihood of heroin use doubles with the use of alcohol, triples with marijuana use, increases 15 times over with the use of cocaine and increase 40 times over with the use of prescription opiates.

Negative Health Consequences of Using Opioids and Heroin

  • Strong sense of euphoria, dependence, constipation, sedation, respiratory depression, withdrawal symptoms with abrupt discontinuation and in exteme situations death can occur.
  • Fatal Overdose
  • 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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