The Opioid Epidemic

You might have heard the term “opioid epidemic” in the news and wondered what it meant.  We are here to give you the #SHACFacts.

What are opioids?

An opioid is a natural or synthetic chemical that “interacts with opioid receptors on your nerve cells” and decreases the intensity of your body’s pain signals. (1)

What are opioids typically used for?

Pain relief

Types of opioids you might have heard of:

  • Oxycodone
  • Hydrocodone
  • Fentanyl (can be prescription or illegally made)
  • Heroin

Why are we concerned?

  • The majority (66%) of drug overdoses deaths in 2016 involved opioids (2) 
  • Major contributor behind the opioid epidemic: prescription opioids
  • 2016 had 5 TIMES the overdose deaths with opioids (both prescription opioids and heroin) than in 1999 (2)

What should you know?

  • National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) showed that “50.5% of people who misused prescription painkillers got them from a friend or relative for free and 22.1% got prescription painkillers from a doctor”(3)
  • Sometimes after people develop a dependence on opioids and they aren’t able to obtain prescription opioids, they can turn to illegal substances such as riskier substances such as heroin and illegal street fentanyl

How can you help?

As a WMU student, you can make a change by not sharing your own prescription medications with friends or family.  You can keep your eyes and ears open to signs of an opioid overdose:

  • Slow and/or shallow breathing (respiratory depression)
  • Pale and clammy face
  • Unconscious, unable to speak (4) 


—Stephanie George, SHAC vice-president

Sources:  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (1, 2), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (3, 4