The cost of America’s opioid crisis is staggering, not just on the toll it’s taking on the lives of our loved ones and friends but in actual financial terms it cost every American.
The misuse of both prescription drugs and illicit drugs is estimated to cost $696 billion in 2018 ― or 3.4 percent of GDP, according to the Council of Economic Advisors (CEA). Further, the CEA estimates the cost ballooned to more than $2.5 trillion during the period 2015 to 2018, a figure equivalent to the entire GDP of France during 2017.
With recent media coverage on the opioid crisis, it’s easy to believe that it only recently began spiraling out of control. In reality, its roots go back much further in time.
Road to Opioid Abuse in America
Although opiates in the form of opium have been known since biblical times, it only became available in the United States around 1775. Opioids were later used in the Civil War for injured soldiers, many of whom became addicted to them.
In the early 1900s, issues surrounding opioid consumption and production began to cause major problems globally, and the U.S. declared a need for an international opium conference. From this came the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914, which “aimed to solve the opium problems of the far east” by eliminating opium supplies and regulating opioid production.
The modern opioid epidemic occurred in three waves with the first wave beginning around 1991. TV ads were so common that patients could request prescriptions by product name. At the same time, deaths involving opioids rose sharply concurrent with an increase in the prescribing of opioids for the treatment of pain. The pharmaceutical companies assured prescribers and the public that the risk of addiction to prescription opioids was very low. Not surprisingly, by 1999, 86 percent of people using opioids were using them for a wide range of pain.
The second wave of the opioid epidemic started around 2010. Because prescribed opioids were getting harder to obtain, the focus turned to heroin abuse and there was a noticeable increase in overdose deaths in all age brackets and all socioeconomic groups. Deaths due to heroin-related overdose increased by 286% from 2002 to 2013. Approximately 80% of heroin users admitted to misusing prescription opioids before turning to heroin.
The third wave of the opioid epidemic began in 2013 with an estimated 517,000 persons reporting heroin abuse, a 150 percent increase since 2007, according to the CDC. At the same time, deaths related to synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl were increasing. The sharpest rise in drug-related deaths occurred in 2016 with over 20,000 deaths from fentanyl and related drugs, most of which was attributed to illicitly manufactured fentanyl.
Fortunately, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 opened the door to legal production of commercial hemp products such as those containing cannabidiol (CBD). Recent studies have already shown that CBD may be useful in reducing seizures, anxiety, stress and inflammation. Oliver’s Harvest Broad-Spectrum CBD Oil is designed to enhance your body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is responsible for regulating sleep, pain, and stress, among other things. Researchers are now working to investigate the potential of CBD oils to offer relief for those suffering from drug abuse.
Monetary Cost to Society and the Profit Makers
Although figures vary depending on the source, most estimates point to the opioid crisis costing the U.S. economy nearly $631 billion from 2015 to 2018 alone. The opioid crisis is expected to cost another $172 to $214 billion this year.
The economic impact of the opioid crisis can be felt across a wide spectrum of both government agencies and private medical professionals. A good proportion of the billions lost in the crisis comes in the form of excessive use of first responders called to overdose victims, higher healthcare costs among users and associated criminal justice activities.
While the losers are glaringly clear, are there any winners in the opioid crisis? Clearly the winners in the crisis, if they can be called that, are many — drug manufacturers, drug distributors, unscrupulous doctors, drug dealers, smugglers, and some users who profit from it.
Although there are a lot of bad actors in the opioid crisis, many have pointed the finger at physicians, who were assured by Big Pharma that opioids were safe, thereby green lighting them to over-prescribe them for all types of pain, minor and major.
A 2019 study found a direct correlation between OxyContin marketing and doctors who received nearly $40 million in payments. Still, most people blame Big Pharma for much of the fallout from the opioid crisis. About 70 percent of respondents to a 2019 National Public Radio poll said pharmaceutical companies should cover the costs of the crisis. Indeed, Perdue Pharma― the maker of OxyContin ― agreed in 2019 to settle a lawsuit for between $10 billion to $20 billion to settle thousands of lawsuits, although it’s unclear if all the affected individuals will be compensated given the company declared bankruptcy in September 2019.
Is There a Future Role for CBD in the Opioid Crisis?
Hemp is legal in the United States thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill. Also known as the 2018 Agriculture Improvement, this bill removed industrial hemp from the federal list of controlled substances and recategorized it as an agricultural commodity to be regulated by the Department of Agriculture and individual state agencies. As a result, hemp-derived products, such as CBD are now available nationwide in the form of oils, edibles, topicals, and much more.
CBD stands for cannabidiol, a larger family of compounds known as cannabinoids, all of which are found in hemp. However, what sets CBD apart from the rest of cannabinoids is its natural properties known to provide a wide spectrum of potential benefits. In the last decade, CBD has gained distinction for the way it interacts with our system, with studies even suggesting it may help support various aspects of our health. For example, recent studies have already shown that CBD may be useful in reducing seizures, anxiety, stress and inflammation. Oliver’s Harvest manufactures an Anxiety and Stress Bundle formulated to promote relaxation and an overall sense of calmness.
CBD works by influencing what is known as the endocannabinoid system. This complex system is partially comprised of a series of receptors known as the CB1 and CB2 receptors, along with chemicals called endocannabinoids. When endocannabinoids bind to CB1 or CB2 receptors, they have a number of regulatory effects on the body including modulating the levels of certain neurotransmitters.
Researchers are now working to investigate the potential of CBD oils to control some cravings associated with drug abuse. Current treatment protocols for opioid abuse include long medical maintenance programs that make use of drugs such as methadone and buprenorphine, both of which may have serious side effects of their own. Because CBD is non-addictive and has been shown to regulate the stress response, it’s possible that it may also have an effect on opioid receptors, which could be helpful for recovering opioid addicts, but more research needs to be conducted in order to make any conclusion.
The opioid crisis has been a long time in the making. In the beginning, little was known about the serious side effects that abuse of early opioids, like morphine, could be responsible for. Later, when Big Pharma was producing synthetic opioids, like OxyContin, some prescribers could be enticed to “look the other way” when it came to confronting the serious addictive potential of these drugs, all in the name of huge profits.
However, with the signing into law of HR 6: The Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities Act (SUPPORT) on October 24, 2018, there is promise of beating the opioid epidemic once and for all. The law provides for sweeping public health reforms to combat the opioid crisis, including provisions for funding education, tighter regulatory measures and better oversight of medical insurance providers.
Of note to CBD manufacturers and distributors is wording in SUPPORT directing the “Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to issue or update guidance on ways existing pathways can be used to bring novel non-addictive treatments for pain and addiction to patients.” It’s this clause that hopefully may open the door to new uses for the holistic benefits offered by hemp-derived CBD products in helping those suffering from the ravages of opioid abuse.
Read more about the opioid crisis here.