The media seems to put a lot of focus on the millennial generation, whether it’s to blame them for killing various industries or praise them for advocating social change. Those who were born between 1981 and 1996 are categorized as Millennials and have faced unique challenges in their lives when compared to their parents and older siblings who are “Baby Boomers” and “Gen-Xers.” One side of these generational categories truly worthy of discussion is how the millennial generation has been impacted by the opioid epidemic.
In the early 1990s, opioid painkillers were readily overprescribed by physicians, and by the early 2000s, the effects of this practice started making headlines. Prescription opioid users were becoming addicted to their medications at an alarming rate. Many Millennials were at the ages when drug experimentation first begins (around 12-17 years old) and were being exposed to these highly addictive medications. This means that they were prescribed drugs like OxyContin and other FDA-approved opioids for various medical reasons, but also had access to them outside of necessary medical use due to the overwhelming availability of these medications. Coupled with aggressive marketing tactics that were used by opioid drug makers, it became a dangerous issue that had only begun to rear its ugly head.
Nearly two decades later, we are dealing with an opioid addiction epidemic so severe that it is causing tens of thousands of deaths every year. About 29% of people who are prescribed opioid medications will misuse them, and about 12% will become addicted. This can lead to much more problematic illicit drug use; it’s been reported that 80% of current heroin users started by becoming addicted to legally prescribed pain medications. The way in which exposure to opioids affected the Millennial generation is tragic and ongoing, but it can provide clues as to how we can prevent future generations from replicating these disturbing statistics.
Millennial Death Rates are Skyrocketing
One would think that living in the economically bustling USA during the most advanced time in technology, science, and medicine would have its advantages, but the children of the millennium face issues with drugs that can’t easily be resolved. The high mortality rate of Millennials has caused life expectancy to decline for two years in a row for the first time since the early 1960s, with the opioid crisis at the root of the drop. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that 129 out of every 100,000 25-34 year old US adults died in 2016. Death rates like these have not been seen since the height of the AIDS/HIV epidemic in 1995.
The timing of the opioid epidemic had sealed the millennial generation’s fate decades before it finally exploded. Baby Boomers, born between 1947 – 1964, fall second to Millennials in terms of opioid addiction-related deaths. This makes sense when we consider that most of these Baby Boomers are the parents of Millennials and both had their prime exposure to opioids during the height of overprescribing. As Boomers are now aging and suffering from various health conditions, they are being exposed to them once again for medical reasons, though there have been . Unsurprisingly, Baby Boomers are dying more frequently from opioids medications while Millennials are falling victim to heroin and illicit opioids. As opioid medications become less readily available, many younger people are turning to the streets for illicit substances like heroin. These statistics surrounding Millennials are alarming, and with the recent prevalence of the deadly drug being found in illicit drugs, these death rates have the potential to jump even higher in coming years.
Opioid Epidemic as a Public Health Threat
In fall of 2017, President Trump deemed the current crisis involving opioid addiction a public health emergency. By doing so, it will allow for more federal funding to help deal with preventative measures and other ways to help solve the problem, which has yet to be addressed. Relatedly, the current lack of economic security for many Millennials who are drowning in student debt while unable to acquire jobs that provide a living wage could be driving more people to misuse drugs. Those who are looking for an escape from their everyday problems are most likely to self-medicate. The fairly quiet gen-X that stands between Boomers and Millennials is generally more financially stable and seemingly less affected by the current economic atmosphere.
Unfortunately, with current statistics and trends, this opioid crisis has yet to reach its peak. Experts say that the trend is continuing to climb upwards, taking more and more lives with it. There are talks about ways in which we can approach the issue to help those who are dealing with addiction but the solution is not easy or simple. Potential solutions include:
- Harm-reduction services for people with addiction, including safe injections sites, over-dose reversal treatment
- Affordable and accessible detox and treatment centers, both outpatient and inpatient
- At-risk community support for those areas hit hardest by drug use
- Prescription screening and lessening the number of opioids medications given to patients
The Millennial generation currently dealing with this soaring opioid epidemic should not be ignored. Many of these young people are the first to grow up during a time where we, as humans, are being exposed to things in society for the very first time like the internet, social media, and other technologies. Growing up while surrounded by uncertainty and the prevalence and availability of dangerous drugs like opioids puts many Millennials at great risk. Maybe it’s time we start shifting our attention from blaming Millennials for trivial market trends to, instead, seeking out ways to help the tens of thousands that are dying every year due to opioid addiction.