Burning Questions: The story behind the US opioid epidemic

Opioid abuse is a serious and widespread problem in the US. But how did we get to this place? Opioids are certainly not new; in fact, narcotics have been around for long time - their usage is referenced as far back as 460 BC. What else isn't new: the complexities surrounding their relieving properties coupled with euphoric side effects and the possibilities of addiction. 

What are opioids? Opioids is a term for a broad range of drugs; some you may know by name are oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine. Some are derived from opium, and some are synthetic. When opioid medications travel through your blood and attach to opioid receptors in your brain cells, the cells release signals that lessen your perception of pain and increase your feelings of pleasure.

These drugs were further developed into the brands you know today (Vicodin, Percocet) as a response to the undertreatment of pain, and became widely prescribed through the 1990s and early 2000s. In fact. new standards in treatmentnt deemed pain the "fifth element of treatment", and care providers were rated on their management of a patient's pain needs. Increasing abuse of these drugs followed  (view a fascinating timeline of opioids' history via The Atlantic here).

Hippo Health's Dr. Ken Rooks dives further explains the epidemic's roots in this edition of Burning Questions.

Dr. Ken Rooks explains one of the root causes of the opioid epidemic. Ken is a Hippo Health doctor; meaning, if you call Hippo Health's telemedicine service, you may end up speaking with him. In conjunction with his work at Hippo, Ken is also the Colorado Medical Director at Exempla Good Samaritan Medical Center, served as Chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine from 2010-2012 and was the 2014 Good Samaritan Physician of the Year. Read more about Ken's background here.

VIDEO: Why are opioids such an problem? 

Kevin McGarvey