In recent years, Indiana’s plight with drugs—especially opioids—has become more prevalent. Opioid addiction in the state has led to hundreds of fatal overdoses as well as the wide transmission of bloodborne diseases. Since 1999, opioid related overdoses in Indiana have been rising with no sign of stopping (National Institute on Drug Abuse).
What is an opioid? Opioids are a popular class of prescription and non prescription painkillers. All opioids are chemically similar and stimulate the brain’s dopamine receptors in similar ways. Some, like opium, are produced naturally and derived from the poppy flower. Others, like fentanyl, are extremely potent synthetically created opioids. Heroin, an illegal opioid, is one of the most addictive substances on the drug market today (NIDA).
Heroin has had a significant impact on Hoosiers. Heroin-related deaths saw a large increase between the years of 2012 and 2016 from 124 to 297 deaths. The death toll of synthetic opioids also increased: from 43 to 304 deaths within the same time period. 794 Hoosiers died in 2016 of overdoses due to opioids. Overall, Indiana’s overdose rate has risen to 12.6 deaths for every 100,000 state citizens (NIDA).
But how have prescribed opioids factored into Indiana’s rise in drug use? Opioids are frequently prescribed to Hoosiers. Indiana dealt out 5.8 million prescriptions in 2015. That’s 109.1 prescriptions for every 100 Hoosiers. The immense frequency of opioid prescriptions may have contributed to the rise in opioid-related deaths. The more accessible these drugs are, the more likely they are to be abused (NIDA).
Since heroin is often injected into the bloodstream via needle, addicts desperate to inject will often utilize used needles. This has contributed to the dramatic increase in the spread of bloodborne diseases in Indiana. Of the 632 new cases of HIV in Indiana in 2015, 13.2 percent was attributed to injection drug use (IDU). According to NIDA, “In 2014, an estimated 10,279 persons were living with a diagnosed HIV infection in Indiana—a rate of 188 cases per 100,000 persons. Of these, 14.0 percent of males and 15.9 percent of females were living with HIV attributed to IDU.” The illnesses associated with sharing needles are not limited to just HIV. Indiana reported a total of 7,140 cases of Hepatitis C (107.9 cases for every 100,000 Hoosiers). 30 percent of these victims admitted to having used injection drugs such as heroin. In 2014, Scott County experienced a large outbreak of HIV and Hepatitis C. A portion of patients were infected with both, and IDU is believed to have been the cause of 97.1 percent of those cases (NIDA).
What has caused this epidemic? It is likely that the over-prescription and under-regulation of opiate painkillers has led many patients to abuse them and become addicted. The consequences of this have been a dramatic increase in opioid-related overdoses and an increase in the transmission of bloodborne illnesses such as HIV. In order to prevent further deaths, Indiana must further regulate the prescription of addictive painkillers. Opioids can be incredibly addictive when used incorrectly, so they should only be prescribed when absolutely necessary and should be administered with careful instructions to the patients. If not, the issue of heroin use in Indiana could continue to grow and harm our population.