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The Opioid Epidemic: What are the Effects of Opioids on Public Health?

Drug overdoses are one of the leading injury-related causes of death in the United States, and approximately 68% of drug overdoses involve prescription or illicit opioids. Beyond the tragic impact that opioids can have on users, opioids also cause harm to the families of users and our communities at large, which includes Baltimore City. In fact, Baltimore regularly sees more deaths from overdoses than from homicide. Here, the complex litigation and personal injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Evan K. Thalenberg discuss the impact of opioids on individual and community health. 

What are Opioids and Why are They Prescribed?

Opioids, also known as narcotics, are a class of drugs that help to relieve pain by binding to opioid receptors in the brain. This reduces the feeling of pain and minimizes pain messages to the brain. Opioids can be obtained legally by a qualified medical provider to help manage serious temporary or chronic pain, but they are also obtained illicitly in the form of heroin and fentanyl. 

What is “The Opioid Crisis?”

The late 1990s brought with it an increase in opioid prescriptions, as medical providers were assured by pharmaceutical companies that prescription opioids would not cause dependency and addiction if prescribed in recommended doses. This influx of opioids into the community lead to these drugs becoming more accessible to individuals who were not originally prescribed them and the misuse of these drugs by those who were. Medical providers began to realize that prescription opioids were in fact highly addictive, but by then, opioid overdose rates had dramatically increased. Every day, more than 130 individuals in the United States die from opioid overdose. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has estimated that the United States spends $78.5 billion a year on the opioid crisis, including the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment and criminal justice involvement.

The opioid crisis has touched major cities and counties across the United States, including Baltimore City and the surrounding counties. Baltimore City now has the highest overdose fatality rate of any city in the United States, many of which are opioid-related overdoses. The Baltimore City Health Department is working to make sure naloxone is available to all first responders and bystanders who want to get involved in the fight against opioid overdose and increase access to on-demand, evidence-based treatments. Naloxone is an injectable medication used to counteract an opioid overdose that is fairly simple for even laypeople to administer, making it a critical part of any strategy to fight opioid overdose. You can learn more about naloxone administration and Baltimore-based treatment options here

How Can Opioids Negatively Affect My Health? 

Even when prescribed by a doctor, opioids can have negative impacts on your health and well-being. Some side effects of opioid use include drowsiness, mental fog, nausea and constipation. Opioids can also cause a user’s breathing to slow significantly, which is a common cause of opioid-related deaths. Some of the signs of an opioid overdose include:

  • pale and clammy skin,
  • limpness,
  • blue or purple-colored fingernails,
  • vomiting or gurgling noises,
  • inability to speak or wake up and
  • a slowed or stopped heartbeat.

If you witness someone exhibiting these signs, call 911 immediately. Opioids are also a major cause of dependency and addiction. A user is considered dependent on opioids when they experience withdrawal symptoms—pain, body aches, fatigue and nausea—after they stop using opioids. Addiction is a disease that causes a user to compulsively seek out drugs, even if these drugs have caused them significant harm. The risk of dependency and addiction increases when opioids are abused, which can mean taking more than recommended or taking another person’s medication in order to get high.

Do I Have Legal Recourse if I Have Been Negatively Impacted by Opioid Use?

Individuals who have suffered addiction, dependence or other negative effects after being prescribed opioids may have legal recourse. Families of those who have been lost due to an opioid overdose may also be able to seek justice for their loss. For those who qualify, compensation may be available for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, drug rehabilitation, funeral expenses and more. 

It is the duty of medical professionals to protect the health and well-being of their patients by prescribing medications that are safe, effective and necessary. The personal injury and complex litigation attorneys at the Law Offices of Evan K. Thalenberg have years of experience fighting for the rights of those who have suffered due to the negligence or malpractice of others. If you or a loved one have been prescribed opioids and suffered negative effects, we urge you to contact the attorneys at the Law Offices of Evan K. Thalenberg today.