What is the Difference Between Epidemic and Pandemic and How Does it Relate to Drug Use?

pandemicEpidemics and pandemics sound similar, but they are actually two very different designations. One term, epidemic, refers to a problem that has grown to the point it is not well controlled.

People are being harmed and perhaps dying as a result of disease spread. This happens over a wide swath of area, with a high proportion of people impacted, but it is not causing global health concern in the same way as a pandemic.

A pandemic, as is being seen currently with the global spread of coronavirus, refers to geographic spread worldwide or across a country, but is actively spreading person to person. This also relates to former plagues decades ago before they were brought under control. Find out more about these terms and how it relates to the opioid crisis in this country.


Public Health Concerns

Both terms deal with areas of public health and concerns for the well being of people the world over. Ultimately, the casual use of terms is usually not done because there is so much that happens between the margins with epidemics and pandemics.

Sometimes, it is a fine line between designating one over the other. The epidemic is used to describe health concerns (opioid crisis, for instance) but may also describe how people behave, such as the epidemic of ADHD in young children without any public health designation attached to it.

It helps to look at scientific information and epidemiology to better define the terms. The United States is governed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is tasked with directing responses to disease outbreaks and challenges.

The levels of disease and disorder may vary but it depends on the rapid movement, rate of infection, and spread across communities. Epidemiologists determine the appropriate response due to these factors, and how quickly it is spreading in a short period of time.

The AIDS crisis began as a pandemic, but both terms, pandemic, and epidemic, have been tossed around. Due to the number of people impacted and spread of the virus, this pandemic is global and remains a threat for those who are at higher risk of infection (including people who use drugs or substances). 


Opioid Epidemic

One of the most widely talked about epidemics of our age is the opioid crisis, or epidemic, taking over the United States. The number of people who have died or been hospitalized due to prescription drug or opioid overuse, overdose, and eventual death, has been going up for years.

Drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death within the United States, due in large part to opioid abuse. There are many factors over the years that contributed to this epidemic.

Opioids are drugs like morphine, methadone, and prescription medications like codeine prescribed to help people with pain relief. These drugs, including the lethal one Fentanyl, began a problematic surge in the late 90s.

Pharmaceutical companies were investigating new painkillers and pushed synthetic opioids to doctors. The companies downplayed addictive factors and began to see an overprescription crisis where people got hooked and kept returning for more drugs.

This ended up with large profits for those companies, and huge liabilities, later when it was discovered they knew about some of the addictive properties yet pushed the drugs into doctor’s hands anyways. 


What Remains

What remains to be seen now is how drug use will be dealt with in a public health fashion. Although the pandemic of coronavirus is in the news right now because of how quickly it is spreading, the opioid, AIDS and other crises that impact people with substance abuse concerns will not go away any time soon.

People are struggling to get the treatment they need and find alternatives to painkillers that don’t include opioid use. The CDC recognizes the challenges people with drug use face, especially opioids, but are struggling to find ways to contain the crisis and offer support for those affected.

Families of loved ones who have lost their lives or have been gravely impacted by opioid addiction are left to put the pieces back together again. 


Know the Ropes

When it comes to knowing what to expect, the CDC provides information to the public health forum. Families of loved ones who want to know how to handle the crisis can go to their local officials and ask for their involvement.

They may ask them to work on things more intensely to prevent further abuse and death from occurring. They may have a loved one in recovery and want to see others seek help so they can put their lives back together. Families of loved ones impacted are on the ground making changes and seeking support for the epidemic of drug abuse and use sweeping communities in the United States. 

Even though epidemics seem to fade into the background sometimes, it does not mean lives are not impacted. We likely will see the impact of coronavirus for a long time to come. For decades, families have been ravaged by the impact of opioid and substance use on their loved ones.

The best way to advocate is to help them seek treatment and support their journey of recovery with programs that give them a fighting chance. Whether they try inpatient or outpatient, transitional housing or not, people with addiction can move beyond the label of ‘epidemic’ and become a survivor who has pushed back against addiction and chosen to experience hope in the midst of an all-too-familiar crisis. 


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