Addressing the Opioid Crisis
Drug overdose is now the No. 1 cause of unintentional death in the United States. In 2021, 98,268 people died from drug overdoses, an all-time high. The main driver of these deaths is opioids – including prescription opioids, heroin, and fentanyl and its analogues.
People who take prescribed opioids, even as directed, may build up a tolerance. When pain has subsided, some people find it easy to stop taking them and others find it harder to quit. Some people who find it harder to quit may continue to take opioids for longer than necessary, or may develop an opioid use disorder. Over 50% percent of people who have misused prescription opioids reported getting them from friends or relatives. Most people don't even know that sharing opioids is a felony.
People who take opioid pain relievers for too long or in doses too large are more at risk of developing an opioid use disorder and more likely to die of drug overdose. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 9.9 million people ages 12 and older misused prescription opioids in 2018, and an estimated 2 million people had an opioid use disorder.
● Research indicates people who take opioid pain relievers may quickly develop a tolerance to and dependence on this class of drug; visit the Understanding Opioids fact sheet in NSC opioid toolkit to learn how opioids work and why they can be risky
● Talk to children about taking prescription drugs that weren't prescribed
● Learn about safe storage and safe disposal of medications
● Find out how much good can come from a coordinated effort
● Learn what legal measures are being taken to address drug overdose
● Learn why ibuprofen and acetaminophen when taken together form one of the strongest oral treatments for pain and how opioids delay recovery from injury or surgery
The term “opioid” includes both prescription pain relievers (Vicodin, Percocet, OxyContin, etc.) and illicit drugs (heroin, illicitly manufactured fentanyl, etc.). Some of these substances are derived from the poppy plant (natural or semisynthetic opioids), while others are fully synthetic (they don’t occur naturally).
Data from 2020 shows us that:
● The vast majority of preventable drug overdose deaths (77%) involve opioids
● Preventable drug overdose deaths increased 649% since 1999
● The opioid category that includes morphine, oxycodone and hydrocodone was involved in 11,893 deaths
● The drug category most frequently involved in opioid overdoses and growing at the fastest pace is synthetic opioids other than methadone (fentanyl, drugs that are chemically similar to fentanyl)
● Fentanyl accounted for 53,480 preventable deaths, representing a 59% increase over 2019
● Psychostimulants, including methamphetamine, accounted for the second highest number of deaths, claiming 23,022 lives