How the Opioid Crisis Is Devastating Millennials
Opioid use has been steadily on the rise since the explosion of prescription drug prescriptions in the 1990s. Within 20 years, the drug problem would become an epidemic responsible for millions of affected lives and tens of thousands of deaths annually.
It's estimated that up to 29 percent of people who are prescribed opiates for chronic pain will misuse them, and up to 12 percent will become addicted. A staggering 80 percent of heroin addicts first began using opioids through legal prescriptions. The numbers are astonishing, and no demographic is affected as strongly as Millennials.
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Death Rates Are Skyrocketing Among Young People
Millennials, or those born between 1980 and 2000, make up the largest segment of the population. They are also dying at swift enough rates to lower the country's life expectancy for the first time since the 1960s. The death rate among young people today is the highest it's been since the AIDS epidemic peaked in 1995.
Opioids are not the only thing killing Millennials, but they are driving the trend of rising death rates. In 2010, 18 out of 100,000 people between ages 25 and 34 died of drug overdose. In 2014, that number rose to 23 out of 100,000. It jumped again to 35 out of 100,000 in 2016.
Baby Boomers are the second segment of population affected strongly by opioid addiction. Interestingly, the cause of death is different between the two age groups. Younger users are more likely to die of overdoses related to heroin. Baby Boomers by contrast are more likely to die of prescription opioid overdose.
The reasons for this may vary. Older people may be more likely to have medical conditions that would make legal opioid prescriptions more easily obtainable. They may also be less willing or able to buy drugs on the street. The Millennial generation, which came of age in a time of financial recession and still struggles as a population with finances, may lack access to medical insurance and drug prescriptions.
The use of heroin is another reason that the opioid crisis has been especially deadly for young people. Heroin sold on the street is often laced with fentanyl, a highly potent synthetic opioid that is up to 1,000 times stronger than morphine. Because fentanyl is so potent, mixtures with fentanyl are extremely easy to overdose on.
A lack of economic security could be a risk factor driving addiction as well. Unemployment, financial insecurity and depression related to these and similar issues can all lead to drug use as a form of escapism or self-medication. This may be why the opioid crisis is not hitting Generation X as hard as the younger group: By comparison, Gen-Xers are somewhat more financially stable and likely to be established in careers. The relatively small size of Gen-X compared to the generations on either side of it may affect the numbers as well.
The Epidemic is Just Getting Started
Although the death rate of the current opioid crisis is already mirroring the height of the AIDS epidemic, experts believe that this public health threat has not yet reached its peak. Although some steps have been taken to reduce the number of drug-related deaths, the trend is still sloping upward. It will take time and a multi-pronged approach to solving the issue of addiction.
Several techniques must work together to solve the problem of opioids in America:
- Reducing the number of drug prescriptions written by doctors.
- Providing harm-reduction services to people currently struggling with addiction, such as safe injection sites and easy access to overdose-reversal treatment.
- Providing addicts with addiction treatment services for detox and recovery.
- Improving the quality of life for people in at-risk communities to prevent addiction from taking hold.
These are not easy steps to implement, and a solution will not be found overnight. However, continuing to help individuals in the grip of addiction and fighting for social changes in other arenas will help to secure a better future for upcoming generations. If you’d like to know more about what SpringBoard Recovery is doing to fight the opioid epidemic, contact us today.