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Human history is filled with stories of wonder drugs that promise to cure any ailment from baldness to an upset stomach. Opioids have been used for thousands of years, and abuse of them is not new.

For centuries, opioids have been used to ease pain, alleviate suffering shorten coughs and on the battlefield to treat wounds.

Physicians have struggled to help their patients find ways to control acute or chronic pain, and the healthcare industry added pain as the fifth vital sign in the 1990s. Around the same time, we began to see an increase in opioid prescriptions to help people deal with pain from injuries, surgeries cancer or other ailments

Perhaps you know someone who finally found relief for chronic pain with an opioid. Over months and years, your friend or family member returned to the doctor to refill the opioid prescription, not knowing he was physiologically or psychologically addicted to the medication, or the consequences of abusing opioids.

Pharmaceutical companies developed more opioids with stronger levels because the drugs were becoming as common as aspirin or ibuprofen.

Nobody saw the large wave driving to the shore at blazing speed. Today, we’re experiencing the devastating effects of opioid misuse and addiction.

The opioid crisis did not stem from a single source; indeed, overprescribing, a lack of access to quality healthcare, social and economic factors and a slow response from state and federal government have all contributed to our current situation.

National data surrounding the opioid crisis is chilling.

n The United States has less than 5 percent of the global population, yet uses roughly 80 percent of the world’s supply of opioids. (CDC/NCHS)

n The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 12.5 million Americans have reported misusing opioids and that opioid abuse results in 89 deaths per day in the United States.

n In 2015, doctors wrote 300 million opioid prescriptions, and 12.5 million people reported misusing opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Center for Health Statistics.

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n Opioid abuse is not limited to adults. About 1,100 adolescents start to misuse opioids each day, according to the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services.

n Women age 45 and older have a higher rate of opioid use disorder than men, according to the BlueCross BlueShield Association.

n 13.3 out of 100,000 Americans died of an opioid-related death in 2016 — 114 per day, according to the National Institute of Health.

Opioid use disorder has no boundaries; it does not discriminate among demographic, neighborhoods, cities, towns or rural areas. Nearly 466 Idahoans have died of an opioid-related overdose between 2012-2016. Overall, opioid-related deaths in our state increased 24-percent from 2015 to 2016.

Idaho cannot arrest its way out of opioid addiction. Instead, we must craft a comprehensive approach to the crisis including education, prevention, treatment and enforcement.

All of us can play a critical role in combatting the scourge of opioids. We need to educate providers, patients and the public about opioid use and misuse. Prescribers play a pivotal role to improve their prescription writing. We also need to expand access to treatment for those suffering from opioid misuse disorder.

At home, locking up all medications can keep them out of the hands of children and adolescents. The Idaho Office of Drug policy encourages everyone to participate in the Lock Your Meds Campaign.

Before accepting an opioid prescription, we encourage everyone to talk with his/her clinician and ask the 12 Questions. Ask why your physician is prescribing an opioid, how long you should take it, alternatives to opioids and the proper way of discarding the unused portion of the prescription. We encourage readers to view all 12 Questions at

Anyone with an expired, unused or unwanted prescription can safely and anonymously dispose of it at a local police station, your primary care physician or at your local pharmacy. Check the Idaho Office of Drug Policy website to find the location closest to you.

If you or a family member needs help with opioid addiction, please call the Substance Abuse and Mental Help Services Administration at 800-622-HELP. This is a free, confidential treatment and referral information service.

Jeff A. Lavey is the chief of the Meridian Police Department and Daniel Meltzer is the senior vice president and chief medical officer for Blue Cross of Idaho.

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