Social Media’s Role in the Opioid Epidemic

By Douglas and Karen Hughes, Guest Columnists

Drug epidemics since 1900 are dynamic and our hyper-information age makes ours even more pronounced. The so-called “opioid epidemic” is contingent upon socioeconomic demand and available drug supply. To fully understand it, we must look beyond opioid medication as the sole contributing factor.

Social media could be one cause that everyone has overlooked.

Overprescribing of opioids was initially the problem and it helped fill numerous medicine cabinets. Coincidentally, this occurred at about the same time as the explosion of cell phones, texting and social media, and the resultant peer-driven social narrative.

Instantaneous information exchange brought teenagers into contact with “high school druggies” — which their pre-cell phone parents knew only as a separate social group. Contact with them was taboo. Today, however, everyone is part of the larger social narrative.

Relating the euphoria of opioid use in open forums caused adolescents, who already feel indestructible, to rebel by trying them. These impressionable youth become attracted to opioids in the same way their parents were attracted to alcohol, tobacco and marijuana. This sent teens scrambling to find a free sample in grandmother’s medicine cabinet.

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Many renowned physicians believe addictive personalities are actually formed by a genetic predisposition to addiction. All that is needed is some substance to abuse. Alcohol is usually the gateway drug for adolescents, the “first contact” for many teens. Forgotten opioids in a medicine cabinet only come later. Addicts will often say, “My drug use began with a prescription opioid.” But addiction experts know the battle was already lost if there was no intervention after “first contact” with drugs.

Society has long blamed overprescribing for the opioid epidemic, but the last three years have proven that to be a red herring. The mass closing of pill mills in 2015, the CDC opioid guideline in 2016, and the steep reduction in opioid production that followed in 2017 have only accelerated the epidemic. Forcing disabled intractable pain sufferers to suffer or self-medicate was not the solution.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention postulated that overprescribing caused the opioid epidemic because they only had clinical evidence for short term opioid therapy. Instead of opening a wider dialogue and seeking more evidence, the lack of critical long-term studies was used as an excuse to limit prescribing. Statistical manipulation of overdose deaths was used to confirm this errant policy.

This is emblematic of all investigations into our present drug problems. Society ran the fool’s errand that one blanket policy could be found for hundreds of diverse regional and local drug problems.

The opioid epidemic most likely emanated from widely accepted alcohol use and the social lure of opioids by adolescents. It has little to do with patients.

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Douglas and Karen Hughes live in West Virginia. Doug is a disabled coal miner and retired environmental permit writer. Karen retired after 35 years as a high school science teacher.

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The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.