(CNN)Here’s a look at the opioid crisis.
Experts say the United States is in the throes of an opioid epidemic, as more than two million of Americans have become dependent on or abused prescription pain pills and street drugs.
Opioids are drugs formulated to replicate the pain reducing properties of opium. They include both legal painkillers like morphine, oxycodone, or hydrocodone prescribed by doctors for acute or chronic pain, as well as illegal drugs like heroin or illicitly made fentanyl. The word “opioid” is derived from the word “opium.”
The number of opioid prescriptions dispensed by doctors steadily increased from 112 million prescriptions in 1992 to a peak of 282 million in 2012, according to the market research firm IMS Health. The number of prescriptions dispensed has since declined, falling to 236 million in 2016.
Opioids bind to receptors in the brain and spinal cord, disrupting pain signals.They also activate the reward areas of the brain by releasing the hormone dopamine, creating a feeling of euphoria or a “high.”
The International Narcotics Control Board reported that in 2015, Americans represented about 99.7% of the world’s hydrocodone consumption.
Methadone is another fully synthetic opioid. It is commonly dispensed to recovering heroin addicts to relieve the symptoms of withdrawal.
In 2013, the cost of medical care and substance abuse treatment for opioid addiction and overdose was an estimated $78.5 billion,according to a report in the journal Medical Care.
1861-1865 – During the Civil War, medics use morphine as a battlefield anesthetic. Many soldiers become dependent on morphine after the war.
1924 – The Anti-Heroin Act bans the production and sale of heroin in the United States.
1995 – OxyContin, a long acting version of oxycodone, which slowly releases the drug over 12 hours, is introduced and aggressively marketed as a safer pain pill by manufacturer, Purdue Pharma.
2010 – FDA approves an “abuse-deterrant” formulation of OxyContin, to help curb abuse. However, people still find ways to abuse it.