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Opioids: Taking The Nation By Storm

By Aleena Zirvi ('22)

Photo courtesy of Flickr

Although only recently gaining new media attention, the Opioid Epidemic has gradually taken over the nation for over a century. Opioids are described as pain relievers—or “painkillers”—which attach to the opioid receptors of the human body and are commonly used to treat chronic pain.

Historically, the opioid epidemic began during the Civil War when soldiers who had sustained injuries were treated with morphine. Eventually, large doses over a long period of time lead to post-war addiction.

According to Georgetown Behavioral Health Institute, “Many [soldiers] developed dependencies and addictions to the drug in the years following the war”, demonstrating the habit-forming properties of opioids like morphine.

School nurse, Ms. Donna Moreen, said these addictions led to the production of newer medications which were falsely advertised as being addiction-free. Thus began the heroin trend.

The epidemic was more or less caused by pharmaceutical companies, eager to sell these medications to patients with chronic pain.

Nurse Moreen explained that pharmaceutical representatives “targeted these areas where there was chronic pain [and they] specifically went in these doctors’ offices and offered opioids for chronic pain to [them] to give to their patients and, in exchange for that, for the doctors to have an incentive to give this medication, they were given lavish vacations, inspiring them to over prescribe.”

In an article posted to Politico, Sarah Karlin-Smith and Brianna Ehley claim that “in 2012, doctors wrote 282 million opioid prescriptions — enough for eight of every 10 Americans”, showing just how easily patients were and still are able to get opioids in their possession.

Students at South Brunswick high school are, unfortunately, even more at risk for opioid addiction due to the undeveloped minds of adolescents.

Nurse Moreen said, “Adolescents in general are at risk for using substances because their brains are not developed until they are about 25 years old and the decision-making process is in the frontal lobe of your brain.”

She also mentioned that residents of New Jersey have an easier time obtaining heroin and other opioids because of its location relative to nearby ports. Due to this easy access, statistics for the state regarding opioids are rather high compared to more centrally located states.

SBHS has several programs educating students on the effects of opioids and causes of addiction, with the shared goal of prevention within the community.

According to Student Assistance Counselor (SAC) Mr. Aaron Millman, “We collaborated with CVS pharmacy, which is doing a campaign to offer to community groups, as well as schools, a pharmacist [to] come and give a presentation on opioids and the dangers of addiction around that topic. In the fall [they] had the pharmacist come out and speak to a group of students from public health, psychology classes, as well as the youth-to-youth prevention and mental health awareness program.”

Mr. Millman also confirmed that staff were offered the same presentation by a CVS pharmacist. He made it clear that the school is aware of concerns regarding addiction as well as any updates and progress with the prevention of such.

Nurse Moreen concluded, “The progression from using opioids during the civil war, to the push from pharmaceutical companies to prescribe these medication in the 90s has attributed to the opioid epidemic our teens in the United States are facing today.”

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