The United States’ worsening opioid crisis is a major concern for the authorities and experts. In spite of the authorities making every possible effort to curb the menace, they remain too far from the desired success, as drug overdose deaths continue to rise. While a lot of effort goes into checking drug offenses and preventing the access to prescription and illegal opioids, little seems to be done on research to determine the causes and growth of the problem.
However, it was heartening to learn about an undergraduate student of Harvard University being awarded the prestigious Hoopes Prize recently for her study on opioid epidemic in her home state West Virginia. She was one of the recipients of the Thomas Temple Hoopes Prize “for excellent undergraduate work,” which comprised a cash prize of $5000.
Kaufman graduated with a major in anthropology and a secondary concentration in global health. Hailing from Charleston, West Virginia, she grew in an environment where opioid crisis was deep-rooted. So, she always fixated on opioid epidemic, its causes and ways to eradicate it. No wonder, for her project – “Stories of Suffering: The Role of Society, Culture, and History in the Making of West Virginia’s Opioid Epidemic,” Kaufman zeroed in on her state, where communities are still living with opioid addiction.
“I wanted to answer questions like what made the opioid epidemic in Appalachia and West Virginia unique,” said Kaufman.
Deep roots of opioid crisis in West Virginia
With 43.4 deaths per 100,000, West Virginia recorded the highest rate of opioid-related overdose deaths in 2016 in the U.S. Majority of the deaths were attributed to synthetic opioid and heroin, as per the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). In fact, the deaths related to synthetic opioids rose by over 300 percent – from 102 to 435 – since 2010.
During her research, Kaufman was able to trace lack of hope and knowledge among the individuals suffering from addiction, abusive or traumatic childhood, high rate of injuries and pain at the industries and workplaces, frequent writing of illegal prescription by rogue doctors and aggressive promotion of painkillers by drug manufacturers and distributors as the major causes propelling opioid epidemic in the region.
However, she identified the prevailing stigma as the most important factor fueling the opioid epidemic. “The stigma that was felt and embodied at a personal level, which prevented the individual from getting help, was arguably the same stigma that on a community level perpetuates the stereotypes of immorality,” concluded Kaufman in her 111-page paper.
Significance of early help
Stigma is the biggest barrier that prevents people from seeking drug abuse help. As a result, people either do more drugs to keep their urges and craving under control or resort to cold turkey to get rid of their addiction. Both the methods do more harm than good. Since opioid addiction is a medical condition, complete recovery can be achieved through proper medical intervention.
Clinical help is also needed to combat the symptoms of drug withdrawal that occur commonly during the detoxification process. It is always advisable to seek an early help to ensure a long-term recovery.
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