Opioid Epidemic Facts

The National opioid epidemic is taking the country by storm, causing record numbers of addiction, people seeking help, and people dying as a result of their opioid addiction. This is becoming news to some and people are wondering what is being done to stop the crisis and how bad it has already gotten. Much of the hysteria came to the national stage when a New York Times published an article citing that drug overdose deaths had risen 22% from 2015-2016, with no indication of this upward trend slowing down. The Federal government has given a lot of lip-service on the issue, but little material action has been taken so far. Here are some crucial opioid epidemic facts everyone should be aware of:

Trump Declared A Public Health Emergency – NOT a National Emergency

The slight difference in the name of these declarations is significant. A National Emergency would immediately allow emergency funding for plans of action, new committees, and funding for health care. A National Emergency gives the president broader power to address the issue by any means necessary. A Public Health Emergency put the issue under the Department of Health and Human Services, which has far less funding. In fact, according to an article by Forbes, the currently available funding for a Public Health Emergency is only $57,000. This is hardly enough to put ONE person through funding, let alone the millions of people currently needing help for addiction.

The Epidemic Started With Prescription Drugs

Another important opioid epidemic fact is that the whole problem started with prescription painkillers. Companies like Purdue Pharma (the inventor of OxyContin), Teva, Johns & Johnson, along with several other super-brands heavily marketed prescription opioids starting in the 1990s. They are accused of misrepresenting the risks of these drugs and rewarding doctors who prescribed them most. One investigative article found that 789 million oxycodone and hydrocodone pills were shipped into the state of West Virginia from 2007-2012, which would be the equivalent of 430 pills per resident. Prescribing rates like these can be found throughout the country and has played a major role in the number of people currently addicted to opioids.

depressed man sitting alone
Record-Setting Death Count

According to the CDC, 91 Americans die every day as a result of opioids, including heroin and prescription drugs. They also claim that 64,000 died as a result of a drug overdose in 2016. An even more startling opioid epidemic fact is that heroin overdose deaths have risen 533% since 2002. This is mostly due to the fact that many prescription drug abusers eventually switch to heroin due to its cheaper cost. Recently, much of street heroin is being found to be laced with the far more potent synthetic opiate fentanyl. Fentanyl can be up to 50% stronger than heroin and is mostly responsible for the recent spike in overdose deaths. Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Ohio, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland and North Carolina all reported large increases in deaths caused by synthetic opiates, which includes fentanyl and similar powerful drugs. Six of these state specifically documented fentanyl-related deaths and out of those states, 392 people died in 2013 and then it sharply spiked to over 1,400 deaths in 2014. This disturbing opioid epidemic fact gives a general idea of how opioids have to lead to such a major crisis.

Some States Have Been Affected MUCH More Than Others

There are many factors that cause some states to be affected more than other states. It can be due to lack of economic opportunity or hope, higher rates of co-occurring mental health conditions, higher levels of stress, unemployment, or plain old boredom. Some states have even been targeted by drug manufacturers due to their lax prescription drug regulations. In 2014, the national average of drug overdose deaths was 15 per 100,000 people. In West Virginia, that number was more than doubled. New Mexico, New Hampshire, Kentucky, and Ohio also had disturbingly high rates of drug-overdose deaths. The CDC says that opioids are by far the most common cause of any drug-related death. North Dakota has seen one of the most drastic increases in drug overdose deaths, which jumped 125% in 2014 compared to just the previous year. Alabama and Tennessee are also being significantly affected, due to the fact that they have the most opioid prescriptions per resident in the country. If these states follow the same steps that other states have taken, like revoking prescriptions for opioids, many of these patients will switch to illicit opioids found on the street, or even heroin. As mentioned before, most heroin addicts start as prescription opioid patients.

I hope these opioid epidemic facts have given you some insight of how bad this problem is. It is imperative that you contact your local government representatives and demand drug policy reform and more funding toward programs that work, like rehabilitation and harm reduction. We need to learn from other countries who have already had their “opioid crisis” and what they did to stop it. Another crucial opioid epidemic fact is that incarceration DOES NOT HELP. Drug are prevalent in prison and there are few avenues for actual help. This leads to a cycle of addiction and habitual offenders. For more information on what one country has done to curb it’s opioid epidemic, check out this article from PRI.