Understanding the Opioid Epidemic

Today, more Americans are suffering from opioid-related harms than at any other point in history. The common name for this modern surge is the opioid epidemic. Understanding the opioid epidemic can give you a clearer view of opioids’ impact on U.S. society. It can also underscore the importance of reducing your exposure to the problems associated with these substances. If you or someone you know already have such problems, an opioid addiction treatment program can help restore your sobriety.

How Did the Opioid Epidemic Develop?

In the late 1990s, doctors across America started prescribing opioids more than ever before. Versions of those substances available at that time were:

  • Natural opioids such as codeine and morphine
  • Semisynthetic opioids such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, and hydromorphone
  • Methadone

The increased use of these medications led to what’s known as the opioid epidemic’s first wave. A second wave followed the first one in 2010. The substance primarily responsible for the second wave of the opioid crisis was heroin. The epidemic’s still-active third wave started three years later. Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids account for the bulk of this latest surge. 

What are the Consequences of the Opioid Crisis?

Overdose Deaths

Every year, federal researchers track the number of people who die from drug overdoses in the U.S. Over the past two decades, over half a million people have died from an opioid overdose. Today, almost three out of every four fatal overdoses are opioid-related. 

Opioid deaths were already on the rise before the pandemic began in 2020. Since that time, the number of fatal overdoses has skyrocketed. However, not all opioids play an equal role in this trend. By far, the most common sources of the problem are synthetic opioids. In many cases, people who die with opioids in their system have also used other drugs.


The opioid epidemic has also significantly increased the nation’s rate of opioid addiction. Today, roughly 2.7 million Americans have diagnosable cases of opioid use disorder or OUD. This illness includes all forms of opioid addiction. It all includes cases of non-addicted opioid abuse severe enough to interfere with daily function. Prescription opioids are involved in the vast majority of OUD diagnoses.

Causes of Opioid Abuse

The underlying issue in opioid overdoses is typically abuse of a given substance. You abuse an opioid medication when you violate the terms of prescription use. Abuse sldo occurs every time you use a street opioid. Opioid abuse is also a fundamental factor in the onset of addiction. Why? Heavy opioid use fuels the brain and behavior changes that lead to addiction.

You may start abusing an opioid for any number of reasons. The most common causes of opioid abuse include:

  • Attraction to the euphoric effects of opioids
  • Attempts to relieve serious pain
  • A desire to relieve stress
  • Peer pressure from others who abuse opioids 

The effects of mental health conditions may also play a role. For example, you may abuse an opioid out of an urge to self-medicate your symptoms. 

Learn More About the Opioid Epidemic at Tree House Recovery

Want more information on the opioid epidemic? The experts at Tree House can further clarify the impact of this crisis. We can also explain what puts you at risk for serious opioid problems. 

Need treatment for existing opioid addiction? Tree House can help. We specialize in the treatment of opioid problems. With our support, you can overcome addiction. You can also avoid the possibility of a fatal opioid overdose. We feature an intensive outpatient model for opioid treatment. This model gives you flexibility and freedom as you progress toward sobriety. To get started, just call us today at 910.812.1728.

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