The Opioid Epidemic - What You Should Know | Health 101

Health 101

Understanding the Opioid Epidemic

The country is currently facing an opioid epidemic. More than 116 people in the U.S. die after overdosing on opioids every single day. In 2016 alone, about 2.1 million people suffered from substance use disorders related to prescription painkillers.  In Pennsylvania that same year, nearly 5,000 people died as the result of a drug overdose, with 85 percent of those deaths caused by opioids2.

Opioids are drugs prescribed by doctors to treat moderate to severe pain. They are typically prescribed following surgery or injury, or for cancer and other health conditions. Common types of opioids include oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), morphine and methadone. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain reliever that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. It’s typically used for treating severe pain, like that from advanced cancer.


You likely have also heard of heroin, a highly-addictive and illegal opioid. A heroin overdose can cause slow and shallow breathing, coma and death, and people typically take heroin with other drugs and alcohol, which increases the risk of overdose.


Prevention is key to stop misuse from starting. You might notice that your doctors are starting to treat pain differently. Gateway Health encourages doctors to try other ways to treat pain before prescribing opiate painkillers. In addition, the pharmacy team at Gateway Health also monitors the amount of opiate medicines our members are prescribed. When a member takes higher than usual amounts of opiates, someone from Gateway Health will reach out to that person’s doctor to talk about the need for this medicine at the doses prescribed. They will also see if there is something else that can be done to help care for the pain. Prescription drug monitoring programs like this can help reduce how much prescription opioids are prescribed and dispensed,3 which can help with misuse.


If you or someone you know is at risk for overdose on heroin or painkillers, you should know about Naloxone (also known by the brand name Narcan®). This is a drug used to reverse an overdose caused by opioid drugs. You can ask your doctor for a prescription or get it at your local pharmacy without a prescription. Ask your doctor or pharmacist to teach you how to use the medicine.


Dealing with a substance use disorder is never easy. Whether you are a person with a substance use disorder, a caregiver, a concerned parent, guardian, spouse or friend, Gateway Health can help. One kind of care is called Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT), which involves taking a medicine to help you not crave certain drugs. There are providers that you can see for this kind of care. Your pharmacy benefits help pay for these kinds of medicines.

Visit our substance use disorders center to find local services and treatment options for all forms of substance misuse, including opioids at or talk to your doctor or healthcare provider.


Now Reading: Understanding the Opioid Epidemic

4 min read