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Cory Lopez Talks Losing His Best Friend Andy Irons to Opioids

Editor's Note: This is a clip in our new video series "Andy Irons: Raw Outtakes," which serves as an intimate glimpse into the anecdotes and parting memories that didn't make the film, told by Andy’s friends and family with insights on bipolar disorder and substance abuse from leading medical specialists. This digital series sets out to expand what we know about the world champion surfer's life and the hidden struggles he faced including substance abuse and bipolar disorder. For more information about the feature film please visit tetongravity.com/andy

Back in October, the Trump administration declared the opioid addiction epidemic currently gripping the United States a public health emergency and, with the President terming it the "worst drug crisis in American history." 

That statement from the Commander in Chief is not hyperbole–according to the Department for Health and Human Services,  more than 42,000 Americans will die this year from opioid overdoses, while more than 2 million will misuse opioids for the first time. 

And those numbers aren't going to decline: In 2016, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids was five times higher than in 1999 per  the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

But to understand how we got to this point, you have to understand where it all began. 

As documented by  Mother Jones, back in 1995, the The American Pain Society adopted the "Pain is the Fifth Vital Sign" standard promoting doctors to monitor pain along with other vitals like blood pressure and breathing. The next year, Purdue Pharma debuted OxyContin with the single largest pharmaceutical marketing campaign in the history of the United States, drastically downplaying the drugs addictive qualities. That campaign entails the now infamous "I Got My Life Back" add that essentially marketed OxyContin as a silver bullet for any malady with no side effects.

In the five years that followed the introduction of Oxycontin to the market, opioid painkiller prescriptions in the United States jumped by 44 million. By 2002, the sales of OxyContin had increased more than thirtyfold and by 2004–following lobbying from members of the pharmaceutical industry–the Federation of State Medical Boards  actually recommended sanctions against doctors who "undertreat" pain.

By 2009 the epidemic of addiction was in full swing. The United States was consuming the vast majority of the entire world's opioid painkillers (99 percent of all hydrocodone was consumed in the States) and by 2011 the CDC finally got wise and declared the country's collective addiction an epidemic.

By then, however, the painkiller pandemonium had already gripped the United States, and its effects are still being felt by society at large today: The Washington Post reported last year that, for the first time since the '80s, the average life expectancy of a U.S. citizen dropped for the second year in a row as a result of the epidemic.

And unfortunately for Andy Irons, that influx of prescription painkillers into the American public poses a particular risk to individuals who suffer from bipolar disorder: According to a study published by the National Institute of Health, people who suffer from bipolar disorder are exponentially more likely to become addicted to substances. Those researchers estimate 56 percent of all people who suffer from bipolar disorder will suffer from addiction in their lives.

"Some of the pills and stuff were starting to bring Andy into more of a comatose state of mind," Lopez told TGR about the effect the pills had on Andy. "More sedated, not as like Andy-like (mentally). He was starting to get that low feeling of sedation, of what those pills do, what they're prescribed to do. It's prescription medicine."

Unfortunately, addiction took its toll on Andy Irons, but it's never too late to get help if you need it. If you or anyone you know is dealing with addiction, please, visit the The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's website for resources and to get help.

From The Series: Andy Irons: Raw Outtakes

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