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How a Surge in Opiate Misuse within the Netherlands Compares to the American Opiate Epidemic

The Netherlands are known for their beautiful tulip fields and for one of the highest happiness ratings in the world. The Netherlands often seem to be a dream place to live. Add to that cities built for bicycles rather than cars, advances in green electricity, and public health that are at the forefront of the country's many missions, and what could be uncomfortable about the Netherlands?

Unfortunately, a drug problem has arisen in the Netherlands. As in the United States, the problem wasn't just illegal street drugs. In fact, the real focus of the drug crisis in the Netherlands is almost entirely on prescription opioids.

How did this problem come about? What is the Netherlands doing to address the problem? And why is your problem so similar to the addiction battles in the United States? [1945-40000]

The start of a health crisis in one of the healthiest countries in the world

The Netherlands has one of the highest life expectancies in the world. Its residents live just over two years longer than the average American. The small European nation also has a low child mortality rate and a low preventable death rate.

While the Netherlands has done much to improve the health and well-being of its citizens, these achievements are up to date. The country has seen an increase in opioid abuse since 2009. And much like in the US, this problem started with an increase in pain medication prescriptions.

The drug addiction crisis in the Netherlands was largely parallel to the progression of the opiate epidemic in the United States. While the opiate epidemic started in the United States in 1999, the problem didn't start in the Netherlands until about ten years later.

 Woman taking pain reliever

At this point, the vast majority of opiate abuse in the Netherlands revolved around prescription pain relievers. In the United States, too, millions of people depend on prescription pain relievers. Although these problems are separated in time and space, they appear to have many similarities between the two countries. What could have caused these problems? And what could be done to correct them?

Over-prescription often leads to addiction

Between 2008 and 2017, the total number of prescription opioid users in the Netherlands almost doubled, from 4,109 users per 100,000 population to 7,489 users per 100,000 population. But have the pain symptoms doubled in the Netherlands? Certainly not.

And look at that. When investigating the abuse of just one drug, the number of oxycodone users more than quadrupled from 574 users per 100,000 population to 2,568 users per 100,000. This means that approximately 2.5 percent of the Dutch population used only one type of opiate pain reliever.

During the same period, the number of hospitalizations for opioids in the Netherlands tripled from around 2.5 admissions per 100,000 inhabitants to 7.8 admissions per 100,000.

Statistics also increased for the number of Dutch men and women seeking treatment for opiate addiction. In 2008, approximately 3.1 people per 100,000 population sought treatment for opiate addiction. By 2017, 5.6 people per 100,000 residents were looking for care.

And last but not least, opiate deaths have also occurred in the Netherlands. The increase is not at the level of the United States, but the number of deaths has nevertheless increased. In 2014, for example, for every 500,000 people living there, one Dutch person died from opiate-related causes. By 2017, however, almost three Dutch people per 500,000 inhabitants had died. It's still a low mortality rate, but tripling deaths is worrying, especially in just three years.

Conservative Prescription – According to the recommendations of the CDC

 Dutch doctor with a patient

Where did the opiate crisis in the Netherlands come from? Well, there are several factors that matter, but one of them stands out among the others.

As in the United States, the medical community in the Netherlands has increased the prescription of opiate pain relievers. This led to an increase in addiction across the country, which also led to an even greater consumption of opiates (and also to more deaths).

One of the crucial steps to reduce addiction statistics in the Netherlands will be to get the medical community to lower prescription rates. It is crucial.

The United States saw the negative effects over a decade ago and still see the consequences today. The prescription got so bad in the United States that the disease control and prevention centers issued detailed opiate prescription guidelines that warned doctors to rule over their tendency to put potentially dangerous medicines in the hands of the American people.

The Netherlands could certainly also implement conservative prescribing guidelines in its medical community. That would be a monumental step forward to reduce the drug problem in this country.

Addiction treatment – When a loved one becomes a victim of opioid abuse

Efforts have been made to address the drug problem in the Netherlands. Historical data show that the country has had positive results with therapeutic communities (TCs). Unfortunately, the Netherlands also tried to use methadone as a drug treatment method (methadone as a substitute for other addictive substances). Studies suggest that methadone treatments have not been effective in reducing drug problems in the Netherlands.

Observing countries like the United States and the Netherlands shows that even legal, accessible, and recommended drugs can be harmful. When people become addicted to their medication, they need help. Such drugs can be fatal. Fortunately, inpatient drug treatment is a comprehensive and effective way to live a drug-free life.

If someone you care about is struggling with a drug crisis, no matter where they live or in which country they live, help them get started on a drug treatment program as soon as possible. It doesn't matter whether they use legal or illegal substances. Addiction is a life or death problem.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP

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