The famous Swedish chemist and engineer Alfred Nobel invented the dynamite and patented it in the year 1867. He was primarily concerned with the safety of miners and wanted to make their work safe for them. This invention along with many others made Nobel a leading light in the scientific community. Today, the pinnacle of one’s success is measured by his/her invention and discovery receiving a Nobel award. Unfortunately for the mankind, the invention of dynamite, which has a great social cause in intention, was diverted to something nefarious and dangerous, to kill people!
Scientific breakthrough is a continuous process and so it should be. If we are a civilized world today, it is primarily because of the efforts of many scientists. It has helped us evolve from being cave dwellers to cell phone flaunting, GPS navigation assisted globe trotters. But sadly we also have to live with the reality that almost every invention and discovery of great virtue can potentially be diverted to something undesirable. A humble kitchen knife if you will. It is a cycle that continues and co-exists.
Opioids too had a similar history. Opioids are great pain killers! They are effective pain killers of non-cancer chronic pain. “Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, morphine, and many others.” (Ref: https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids). Starting around early 1990s, opioids were prescribed liberally by physicians for non-cancer chronic pain. They were reassured by pharmaceutical companies and various medical societies that the use of opioids was relatively safe and chance of them inducing addiction was pretty low. This was a time when not much data was available regarding the safety of opioids. When people discovered that opioids can give a recreational “high”, the drug abuse began and sadly many people lost their lives.
When the prescription of opioids was heavily regulated in the early 21st century, people turned to illegal opioid heroin as an alternative. Heroin was cheap and widely available. There was a spurt in the number of deaths due heroin abuse. Since heroin is an injectable, it also gave rise to incidence of HIV, Hepatitis B, C, bloodstream infections etc.
Later in the 21st century, people turned to synthetic opioid like Fentanyl. Over 20,000 people died in 2016 from using fentanyl and similar drugs. The government is trying to discourage the medical community from prescribing opioids for non-cancer chronic pain and framed guidelines for its prescription. Prescribing non-opioids is encouraged as a first step and opioids are to be prescribed only after careful assessment of the condition. However, pharmaceutical industry is lobbying hard to resist these guidelines.
Prolonged use of opioids reduces pain-relieving effect. People using them grow dependent on them further injuring the body. With dependence over opioids, a person develops withdrawal symptom, a craving for the drug. It becomes difficult to stop taking them. They get addicted to it. It is a sorry to state to be in. But fortunately it is not the end of the world. There are drugs that inhibit the withdrawal symptom. However, it is found that the medication to take a person out of addiction works best in combination with inpatient or support programs.
Pennsylvania is among the US states that has a high incidence of opioid addiction. In 2016, there were 2,235 opioid-related overdose deaths, a rate of 18.5 deaths per 100,000 persons, compared to the national rate of 13.3. Pennsylvania Recovery Center provides intensive outpatient & outpatient services for individuals struggling with substance use disorder, and alcohol use disorder as well as co-occurring mental health problems who are seeking recovery from addiction. The recovery center co-founded by Brandt Norton with Paul Zanaras has a vision to relieve every addict or alcoholic from active addiction and help them find a new way of life.