The Opioid Epidemic

About the Epidemic:

The United States is currently amid battling a serious widespread of drug overdoses known as the “Opioid Epidemic”. The opioid epidemic describes the rapid increase in the use of prescription and non-prescription opioids in the United States. This drug abuse trend has been called the “worst drug crisis in American history”, and it seems to only be getting worse. Heroine and prescription drugs such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and fentanyl are all common drugs that fall into the category of “opioids”. These drugs, along with many others, are being heavily abused and are now causing more than 78 Americans to die every day, according to the American Nurses Association.

Where did it start?

In the 1960s and 1970s, physicians were trained to reserve opioids for the most serious forms of pain and end-of-life care. But now the number of opioid-related overdose deaths now rival those of AIDs in the 1990s, killing more than 27,000 people per year. But how did it get so bad and where did it all start? Anna Lembke, MD, Assistant Professor and Chief of Addiction Medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine states that “the current prescription drug epidemic is first and foremost an epidemic of overprescribing”. “Doctors began prescribing more opioids in the 1980s out of compassion for those people living with intolerable pain”. This act of compassion quickly turned into a disregard for patients’ well-being as doctors began to overprescribe to help patients deal with their chronic pain, rather than finding a solution and getting to the root of the problem. During this time, the American Pain Society introduced their “pain as the 5th vital sign” campaign, which added pain to the four original vital signs representing body functions: heartbeat, breathing rate, temperature, and blood pressure. According to the National Pharmaceutical Council, the campaign was based on the simple logic that “pain is the most common reason individuals seek health care”. As a result, advocates were able to successfully lobby for state medical boards and state legislatures to change statues and regulations – lifting the prohibition of opioid use for non-caner pain.

How bad is it?:

In 2015 alone, more than 52,000 people died of drug overdoses, nearly two-thirds of which were linked to opioids like Percocet, Oxycontin, heroin, and fentanyl.  Let’s put this number into perspective by comparing it to the total deaths in America by cause and year:

Total Deaths in America by Cause and Year


In short, that is more drug overdose deaths than any other period in United States history – causing more deaths than car crashes and gun homicides combined!

Who does it effect?

The short answer is everyone. Every racial demographic has seen more overdoses since 1999, and the numbers are still increasing today. Whether you are struggling with opioid addiction or know someone that is, the opioid epidemic has the potential to affect you. Whites and Native Americans have seen the largest rise in death rates, but African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians have also seen an increase as well:

Deaths by Opioids by Race in 2014



Looking for answers:

Just this year, CDC Director Thomas Frieden stated that “urgent action is critical” when referring to the opioid epidemic. So, what exactly are these “actions”, and what can you do to help your community fight this addiction? There are many addiction treatment centers and programs aimed to help people beat this chronic disease. Treating drug addiction is not simple, but there are solutions.


Help yourself, help your family and friends, and help your community – together we can cure this disease!






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