By: Shaylin Ruane
Frederick Community College

The Opioid Epidemic has imposed a threat so severe that it has been officially declared a nationwide public health emergency.  Not since the H1N1 virus in 2009 has an epidemic of this magnitude threatened public health (Johnson & Wagner, 2017).  In 2015, more than 33,000 Americans died as a result of an opioid overdose.  In 2016, drug overdose deaths totaled 64,070 – three-fourths of those overdoses were from opioid use (Police Executive Research Forum, 2017).  It is estimated that 2.6 million individuals in the United States are enslaved to opioid addiction (Andrews, 2017).  As this crisis continues to intensify, the drugs’ toxicity will likely result in more fatalities.

Opioids have the power to make the brain surrender through chemical mechanisms (The National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment, 2008).  An opioid can be defined as medications that act on opioid receptors in both the spinal cord and brain to reduce the intensity of pain-signal perception (National Institute on Drug Abuse, n.d.).  Opioids deceive brain receptors by mimicking the chemical structure of a natural neurotransmitter, allowing them to bind and activate nerve cells; thus, targeting the brain’s reward system and activating the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for regulating movement and emotional responses.  When a reward circuit is activated in the brain, the brain acknowledges the significance of the specific event, creating a conditioned response to the stimuli, thus laying the groundwork for addiction.  Because opioids not only relieve pain but often times give the consumer feelings of euphoria, the drug is misused.  Misuse leads to addiction and addiction, more often than not, results in death.

Research indicates that overprescribing is igniting, supporting, and enabling this epidemic (Krisberg, 2017).  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that the “rise in deaths has corresponded with a rise in prescribing” (Krisberg, 2017, para 5).  Starting with our doctors we need to create and strictly enforce prescription guidelines.  For more information on these guidelines, click the following link: (  Furthermore, the American Society of Addiction Medicine offers a Treatment of Opioid Use Disorder Course, accessible at:  This course provides the education on medications and treatments for opioid use disorder (The American Society of Addiction Medicine, n.d.).  Marie Szalavitz, author of “Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction,” offers suggestions on the steps to take if your loved one has an opioid addition.  The science-based blog post can be found here:  Proactive efforts, through action and education, are crucial to combating the opioid epidemic.



Andrews, T. M.  (2017).  Opioid-addicted zebrafish attempt to get a hit 2,000 times in 50 minutes, study says.  The Washington Post.  Retrieved from

Johnson, J. & Wagner, J.  (2017).  Trump declares the opioid crisis a public health emergency.  The Washington Post.  Retrieved from

Krisberg, K.  (2017).  Prevention driving health response to opioid epidemic: CDC prescribing guide shifting approach.  The Nation’s Health, 47(5), pp. 1-10.  Retrieved from

National Institute on Drug Abuse.  (n.d.).  Opioids.  Retrieved from

Police Executive Research Forum.  (2017).  The unprecedented opioid epidemic: As overdoses become a leading cause of death, police, sheriffs, and health agencies must step up their response.  Retrieved from

The National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment.  (2008).  How do opioids work in the brain?  Retrieved from

American Society of Addiction Medicine.  (n.d.).  Waiver Qualifying Training:  The ASAM       Treatment of Opioid Use Disorder Course.  Retrieved from

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