Every day, breaking news seems to bring new threats. Many people comment that our world is moving quickly and that violence and extremism are ever-present dangers. Visible images from television and the Internet often leave people anxious and concerned. Will terrorism ever end? Will we be able to experience a sense of safety—and for that matter, how worried should we be?
There is one epidemic in which we can enact a more immediate difference. In 2016, over 50,000 Americans died of drug overdoses. This number is much higher than ever before. This number has grown largely because of the opioid epidemic in the United States. The number of deaths from opioid drugs has surpassed the number of deaths from terrorism in recent years.
The Data: Taking the Opioid Threat to New Heights
In 2016, drugs like heroin and prescription painkillers like OxyContin or Oxycodone killed more people than gunshot wounds. This alarming overdose statistic may not carry the violent crime images that homicides may carry, but these drugs are silently killing family members, community members, professionals, students, and every other type of person in-between.
80% of the world’s entire prescription opioid consumption occurs here in the United States.
Opioid addiction impacts people from all backgrounds, income brackets, races, and cultures. It doesn’t matter what political side you are on: both former President Obama’s and President Trump’s cabinet have stated that the opioid crisis is a dire and dangerous situation.
In 1997, the United States and New Zealand were the only two first-world countries who began allowing drug companies to widely advertise drugs to the public. These advertisements began to roll out for people of all ages, even children. Now, the drug advertisement business is a multi-billion-dollar industry. The Neilsen Research Company found that for every hour of television, an average of 80 drug ads are broadcast.
When Opioid Use Begins After Trauma or Terrorism
Acts of terrorism are unexpected, outside of an individual’s control, and incredibly devastating to the people who experience it firsthand, emergency responders, communities, families, and countries. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that stress is the top cause of addiction relapse and substance problems.
One particular peptide, corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF), has been found in people who survive acts of terrorism or violent crime. Higher CRF levels can trigger a number of responses in both people and animals. These responses impact every part of the way our bodies function, including decision-making.
Very big stressors (such as the experience of terrorism or a violent event) may actually change the way that the body perceives future stressors. It may become more difficult to calm down after smaller stressors once a highly traumatic incident has occurred. People often seek relief in any way they can, and substance use is one way that people seek comfort and relief, despite the negative side effects it causes.
Unfortunately, coping through opioid use can lead to more serious problems, exposure to more traumas, and an even greater loss of control over one’s life. Through understanding more about chronic stress, trauma, and the effects of terrorism, specialized treatment programs are able to create healing and peace for survivors.
The Links Between Acts of Terrorism, PTSD, and Substance Use
Terrorism is designed to create a sensation of terror in its victims. The experience of an act of terrorism leads to immediate sensations of helplessness, panic, and despair. These intense feelings and experiences lead to changes in brain functioning. One of these changes may be post-traumatic stress disorder.
One important study looked at survivors and first responders from the September 11, 2001 attack on New York City. This study found that:
- Between 7.3% and 14% of terrorism survivors can be expected to increase alcohol consumption for two years after the incident.
- Up to 16.3% of terrorism survivors may experience an increase in drug use (which includes prescription opioid painkillers and illegal narcotics)
- Approximately 6.8% of trauma survivors will increase their use of cigarettes after a terrorist event.
Not everyone who experiences trauma will go on to experience PTSD. Those who are diagnosed with PTSD will experience symptoms such as recurring thoughts or dreams about the event, a strong desire to avoid reminders of the event, trouble sleeping or calming down, and possibly even difficulties in relationships. These feelings are understandably uncomfortable, and they can be so distressing that they impede normal life activities.
It makes sense then, that a person would want to escape these stressors and memories in any way possible. Some people cope by reaching for alcohol, or substances like opioids. While coping through substance use may ease discomfort for a little while, substance abuse will only make matters worse over time.
When it comes to opioid use, the dependency and withdrawals associated with these drugs can lead to even more trauma. It becomes a difficult cycle to escape, but escape is possible through treatment. Integrated treatment for dual diagnosis problems, such as PTSD along with addiction, can lead to a sincere recovery and a happier, brighter future. While it may seem impossible to escape the symptoms of PTSD, it is very possible to join the millions who have gone on to lead happier, more empowered lives.
Consider these facts, as reported by The National Institute on Drug Abuse:
- People who have experienced PTSD have higher rates of co-occurring disorders. Issues such as alcohol use disorder, opioid use disorder, depression, and anxiety are higher among survivors of trauma.
- Post-Traumatic stress disorder has been associated a more than 4-fold increased risk of drug misuse and addiction.
- As many as 75% of combat veterans who are diagnosed with PTSD have also experienced an issue of drug or alcohol misuse. These numbers are similar for individuals who have experienced war-like traumas, such as acts of terrorism.
The Opioid Epidemic: The Path from Prescription to Heroin
Not every addiction begins due to a violent or traumatic event. Many addictions begin with a well-meaning prescription after injury or illness. Opioid use may also begin through the medical process of trying to physically recover from an act of terrorism. Unfortunately, if these drugs are misused or overused, they may lead to more serious problems.
People often mistakenly believe that misuse of prescription painkillers such as Percocet, Demerol, or OxyContin are safer than fully illegal street drugs like heroin. Unfortunately, misuse of opioid drugs is harmful no matter what, and many heroin addictions stem from prescription painkiller addictions.
Drug dependence will occur at some point when using prescription or non-prescription opioids. Opioid drugs create specific brain changes, and once the brain becomes accustomed to these drugs, it slowly ceases the creation of natural opioids. Even if painkillers are used for medical reasons, over time, the brain will adjust to them and require more and more to remain comfortable. This leads to dependence, which quickly leads to a need for more and more opioids in order to feel “normal.”
A well-known 2012 study of young heroin users found that as many as 86 percent abused prescription painkillers before injecting heroin. Many of those young heroin users first found opioids from personal prescriptions, friends, or family. The statistic doesn’t just include young people. Other studies have found that as much as 80 percent of heroin users of all ages began with the use of a prescription painkiller.
Heroin has a complicated history. In 1898, heroin was marketed as a treatment for pain, and was sold as an over-the-counter medicine. In fact, it was first promoted as a “non-addictive” alternative to morphine. In 1914, it was regulated as a prescription-only painkiller. Bayer pharmaceuticals even promoted it to help children with their cough. Heroin became illegal in 1924 after it proved to be incredibly addictive, prone to causing overdoses, and likely to cause deadly overdoses.
It is important to note that, as we research more and gain more understanding of how the body handles pain, we may find new and better treatments, and we may understand more dangers related to prescription painkillers. Heroin began as a prescription painkiller. While there is a time and a place for modern, legal painkillers, it’s possible that we are now discovering the untold dangers of our current prescription painkiller supply.
Many people become hooked on prescription painkillers and turn to heroin as a cheaper alternative. While heroin may be cheaper at first, it is just as dangerous, if not more dangerous, than abusing prescription painkillers. Heroin is also injectable, and IV drug use leads to increased risk of blood-borne diseases such as HIV or hepatitis C.
Ending the Opioid Epidemic
There are a few things that we can all do to help end the opioid epidemic. While this problem has reached crisis levels, the real treatment begins within families and individuals. Opioid addicts are not bad people; they are people who became trapped in a cycle of physical dependence or emotional dependence. In some cases, trauma due to terrorist events or violent crimes lead to these issues.
Effective treatment is possible. Understanding counselors and treatment providers can help through medically supervised detox and rehabilitation programs. Counseling can help effectively treat the symptoms associated with trauma and it can also help addicted people understand themselves better and become healthier each day. A supportive treatment program can put people in touch with others who share the same goals of recovery.
One simple call can help make a serious difference in the life of someone in the midst of this deadly epidemic. Our toll-free helpline is available to help save lives and get individuals in treatment before things get worse. Find out how we can help you by making a completely confidential call today.