The opioid crisis is a real threat to our country, as experts claim the United States is in the throes of an opioid epidemic. The reasoning? More than two million of Americans have become dependent on or abused prescription pain pills and street drugs.
Opioids are drugs that have been formulated to replicate the pain reducing properties of opium, which is where the word “opioid” is derived from. Opioids include both legal painkillers like oxycodone, morphine, or hydrocodone. These are prescribed by doctors for acute or chronic pain. They also include illegal drugs like heroin or illicitly made fentanyl.
Opioid Epidemic Facts
- In 2015, there were 52,404 overdose deaths in the United States. Of those overdose deaths, 33,091 (63.1%) involved an opioid. That is an average of 91 opioid overdose deaths every day.
- The number of opioid prescriptions handed out by doctors has been steadily increasing. In 1992, there were 112 million prescriptions dispensed. In 2016, there were 236 million opioid prescriptions dispensed. The peak came in 2012, which had 282 million.
- Hydrocodone (Vicodin) was the most widely prescribed opioid between 2006 and 2014. In 2014, 7.8 billion hydrocodone pills were distributed. The second most prescribed opioid was oxycodone (Percocet). In 2014, 4.9 billion oxycodone tablets were distributed in the United States.
- According to the International Narcotics Control Board, Americans represented about 99.7% of the world’s hydrocodone consumption in 2015.
- According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, about 11.5 million Americans age 12 and older misused prescription pain medicine in 2016.
- In 2016, about 948,000 or 0.3% of the US population age 12 and older used heroin.
- Opioid abuse starts with prescription drugs, but switches to heroin to save money. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, half of young people who inject heroin turned to the street drug after abusing prescription painkillers. Three in four new heroin users started out using prescription drugs.
- There has been a huge increase in the number of overdose deaths related to heroin. Between 2002 and 2016, the deaths increased by 533%, which was from an estimated 2,089 in 2002 to 13,219 in 2016.
- To help combat these overdose deaths, first responders are now carrying a drug called naloxone. This drug is available as an injection or a nasal spray and is used to block or reverse the effects of opioids.