By No Labels
Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50, and much of that can be laid at the feet of America’s opioid addiction crisis, which afflicts roughly two million people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As Congress considers spending priorities for 2018, here are five facts that every American should know about the opioid crisis.
In 2015, more than 52,400 people died of an overdose in the U.S., and roughly 6 out of every 10 were related to an opioid, according to the CDC. Of those opioid-related deaths, about half involved a prescription drug.
In 2016, the number of annual overdose deaths grew by about 22 percent to more than 64,000. As The New York Times pointed out, that’s more than HIV-related deaths at their height in 1995, gun deaths at their peak in 1993 or car-related fatalities at their apex in 1972.
The opioid epidemic cost the U.S. economy more than $500 billion in 2015, according to a November 2017 report by the White House Council of Economic Advisers.
The cost of health care, criminal justice, and the economic loss associated with each drug-related death takes a massive economic toll. In 2015, the total cost of America’s opioid addiction accounted for roughly 2.8 percent of GDP that year, according to the report. In August, President Trump declared the opioid crisis a national emergency.
Opioids are a wide classification of drugs, encompassing everything from pain medication to heroin. The widening availability of prescription drugs is broadly acknowledged to be the genesis of the current crisis. Many users of illegal drugs such as heroin begin their addiction to prescription opioids.
But while deaths from prescription opioids have leveled off, heroin and fentanyl have continued to drive the death toll upward. In states like Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, half the overdose deaths are caused by fentanyl, a drug that is 50 times stronger than heroin and 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine.
Of course, the drugs are linked, as well. People addicted to prescription opioids are 40 times more likely to become addicted to heroin, according to the CDC.
While America’s drug problems are often associated with urban centers like New York and Los Angeles, opioids hit hardest in other parts of the country.
Overdose deaths are most prevalent in Appalachia, the Rust Belt and New England. In the west, parts of Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico also had significant numbers on a per-capita basis.
Naloxone, also called Narcan, is a medication that can block the effect of opioids in minutes, and help treat an overdose. Many police and other emergency responders now carry it, and an increasing number of states have Good Samaritan laws that allow people to call for help without fear of being prosecuted for minor drug or alcohol offenses.
But Naloxone does not treat the underlying addiction. One study in Massachusetts showed that one in 10 patients treated with Naloxone died within a year.