Opioid ‘epidemic’ kills 78 people a day in the U.S., doctors say

CHICAGO – Doctors say 78 people die of opioid overdoses every day in this U.S. , part of a national health crisis that both health providers and government agencies are trying to stop.

White House Drug Czar Michael Botticelli came to Chicago Thursday as part of an ongoing effort to address the opioid crisis in the U.S.

Opioids are used medically to relieve pain but they are very addictive.

“We want to make sure that people who are in pain get appropriate treatment, but that we are not continuing to contribute to the vast overprescribing on prescription medication that has been fueling this epidemic for 10 years,” Botticelli said.

Justin Dawson was addicted to heroin. After a high school basketball injury, he was prescribed opioid painkillers. Later in life, he turned to heroin because it was cheaper and more accessible.

“Basically when you are sick from an opioid withdrawal you will do anything to get rid of it. And if that means picking up heroin, you will become a heroin addict just like I did,” Dawson said.

Today, after cleaning up his life, he advises people to explore options besides opioids to manage pain.

“It can be dangerous. It kills a lot of people, especially young people today. It’s no longer just an inner-city problem. It’s a problem that stretches to suburbs, stretches to all ethnicities, all ages,” Dawson said.

With a growing number of people becoming addicted to opioids, doctors are turning to other ways to help patients cope with pain.

“As an osteopathic physician I feel strongly that we offer a broad range of treatments that affect not only the body but the mind and spirit to help people get better just not only with medications,” said pain specialist Dr. Anita Gupta.

While doctors work to prescribe few opioids, experts say people who do have the pain medicine should make sure they’re locked away and properly disposed.