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The Takeaway

Addiction Nation: Understanding America's Opioid Crisis

Some 77 million Americans are personally affected in some way by the opioid epidemic, and at least 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. During this special episode, The Takeaway dives deep into the crisis. Here’s what you’ll find:

    An estimated 50 million people in the United States suffer from chronic pain, and as doctors struggle to figure out how to treat it, the opioid epidemic has grown in its wake. Keith Wailoo, an expert on pain and author of “Pain: A Political History,” explains.
    Dr. Andrew Kolodny,  co-director of opioid policy research at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, says America is in the throes of an enormous crisis of addiction, and at the heart of this crisis lies the medical industry and pharmaceutical companies. He talks about the pressure he and other doctors felt in the ‘90s to turn to prescribing opioids, arguing that many medical professionals have been duped by marketing campaigns that actually drive addiction and death.
    From the pain pills that someone is prescribed, to the heroin that can be bought on the street, where do these drugs come from and how are they made? Darren Foster, co-founder of Muck Media and a Peabody Award-winning documentary filmmaker who has focused on the opioid epidemic, answers.
    Kimber is a 26-year-old woman from Lynn, Massachusetts. She first used opioids for pleasure at age 13 or 14 after undergoing dental surgery, but became addicted to percocet and then heroin in her early 20s. After many tries at beating her addiction, she’s now more than 80 days clean, and tells us about what being an addict feels like, what she had to do to support her habit, and the moment she says changed her perspective.
    For some families with a loved one struggling with opioid addiction, involuntary commitment can seem like a drastic but necessary step. That’s court-mandated treatment, which forces an addict to get help. But this option doesn’t exist in some states, like New Hampshire, which is reeling from opioid overdose deaths. New Hampshire Public Radio’s Paige Sutherland, has the story of two families -- one in New Hampshire, and another nearby in  Massachusetts -- who grappled with involuntary commitment to try to save an addicted child.
    Beth Kane-Davidson is the director of John’s Hopkins Suburban Hospital’s addiction treatment center. She’s been treating addicts for more than 30 years. She sits down with Jessica Jeffery, an addict in recovery, and Deborah Gafner, a mother of son who died of a heroin overdose. Together, they reflect on their experiences, and the importance of confronting this epidemic head on with treatment and prevention.

From September 26-28, 2017, The Takeaway and The Harris Poll surveyed 2,261 U.S. adults ages 18 and older to gain insight into the American opioid epidemic. Here’s what we found:

    Nearly half of Americans report to have taken prescription-based opioids, and about 1 in 3 Americans (31 percent) has personally experienced opioid dependency or abuse, whether it be themselves, a friend or family member who has or is currently struggling.
    About 77 million Americans are personally affected in some way by the opioid epidemic.
    About 1 in 10 Americans (9 percent) knows someone who has died as a result of opioid addiction.
    Nearly half of Americans (47 percent) feel the opioid epidemic can affect them personally and the majority (52 percent) of Americans feel that opioid overdoses and deaths are a far bigger crisis in America than reported on by the media. 62 percent agree that police are not doctors and that he opioid crisis cannot be solved in the streets of America.
    Nearly half of Americans saying they feel prescription opioids are the same as heroin. Additionally, the majority (57 percent) of Americans feel that opioids are as big of a problem as heroin and (54 percent) feel that opioid abusers deserve to be treated the same as heroin users.
    There is still a lack of knowledge regarding opioids and heroin -- 49 percent do not know if opioids and heroin are similar or different, and 11 percent believe the two to be different.

This episode is hosted by Todd Zwillich.

 

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