America is in the midst of a crisis. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, opioid overdoses accounted for 72,000 untimely deaths in 2017. That number was up 15 percent from 2016. When the data for 2018 comes out next year, it will, no doubt, show another increase.

South Dakota is not immune to the opioid epidemic. The rate of abuse in nonmetropolitan rural areas is disproportionately higher considering that fewer people live in these areas. The percentage of opioid-related deaths in rural areas is 45 percent higher than in cities.

The cycle of opioid addiction

In many circumstances, opioid addiction begins innocently enough. A person gets sick, has surgery and gets painkillers such as Vicodin to help with the pain. The opioids in these drugs have a powerful effect on the nervous system, and the effect is something the person wants to continue feeling. Opioid addiction is fast and may begin within five days of first taking the pills. Therefore, abuse often starts out of a need and grows into a habit.

Doctors overprescribe opioids

Experts are starting to level accusations at doctors for overprescribing powerful drugs. A recent account of one person’s battle with addiction says the beginning of the problem was a prescription given after dental surgery. The doctor prescribed 19 Vicodin pills. While the pharmacist and the patient herself felt that was too much, she received the medicine and soon found herself hooked.

Opioids are a stepping stone

What starts as a legitimate need for temporary pain relief turns ugly quickly. At some point, the prescription drugs become more difficult to get, or they stop having the same effect. This may cause an addict to move on to other drugs like heroin and meth. Those addicted to drugs may find illegal ways to fund their habit. Prescription drugs, therefore, serve as a stepping stone to harder and more elicit illegal substances which may lead to criminal activities and overdose.