Opioid Epidemic, Part 1: What is it?


Dr. Charles Pearce is a board-certified Emergency Medicine physician with Madison Emergency Physicians (MEP). MEP physicians staff the Upland Hills Health Emergency Department for both emergency and urgent care needs.


We are in the midst of a public health crisis- an epidemic killing more people annually than car accidents!  This epidemic of opiate overdoses and deaths continues to grow and spread; thus the need for prevention and treatment are more critical than ever.  We all need to educate ourselves and by doing so we may help save countless lives.

What is an opioid?
You may have encountered the terms Opiates, Opioids, or Narcotics when listening to or reading the news.  Let me tell you the difference between the three for clarity.

Opioid: drugs created to mimic effects of opiates (examples: oxycodone, hydrocodone, hydromorphone)
Opiate: drugs that are derived from opium (examples: morphine, heroin)
Narcotics: any substance that produces insensibility or narcosis; has a specific illegal connotation.

In the end, opioid is used globally these days; the difference is more semantics than anything else.

What do opioids do?

  • Target receptors in the brain that block perception of pain
  • Slow your breathing, which is what (particularly when taken in tandem with other sedatives or in high enough doses) precipitates death
  • Other side effects: constipation, nausea/vomiting, confusion, increased pain sensitivity, psychomotor slowing

What is an opioid overdose?

An excess of opioid or opioid used in combination with other medications that causes slowing or cessation of breathing.  This leads to a failure to deliver oxygen to our vital organs and a failure to eliminate carbon dioxide ultimately resulting in loss of consciousness, brain injury, and/or potentially death.

Why is there an opioid epidemic (in words and a graph)?

  • The amount of opioids prescribed have quadrupled in 15 years
  • During that time period, greater than 165,000 deaths have occurred related to opioids
  • Accidental overdose deaths have surpassed car accident deaths (in age group 25-45 years of age)
  • Overdose deaths from prescription-based opioids have recently been surpassed by both heroin and fentanyl.


Consider that in Wisconsin:

  • Heroin overdoses killed 371 people in 2016, 13 times as many as the year 2000
  • In 2016, 827 people in WI died from opioid overdoses, greater than number of Motor Vehicle Accidents
  • 600% increase in prescription overdoses from 2000 to 2016
  • Overdoses have increased by over 109% from 2016-2017; sadly, the greatest rise of any state in the nation.

Follow our blog for Part 2 of the Opioid Epidemic: What to do?

Why Choose Upland Hills Health?

Patient-First Care Every Patient. Every Time.

We are committed to providing the safest and best possible experience for every patient that enters our clinics, our hospital, our nursing and rehab center, our medical equipment store, or who invites us into their home through Home Care or Hospice services.

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