Drug Overdoses: The Human Addiction Tsunami

In 2016, more than 63 thousand individuals died in the United States from drug-related overdosing. This makes 2016 the deadliest year of the persistent drug overdose epidemic, in accordance with a report by the NCHS (National Center of Health Statistics), which is a subset of the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention).

Many of these deaths included the involvement of opioids, which is part of the same painkiller subset as fentanyl and heroin, as well as prescription medicines like hydrocodone and oxycodone. In 2016, Over 42 thousand American drug fatalities involved the usage of opioids. This is a higher number than those Americans who die of breast cancer annually.

A good bit of the increase has been driven through the rise of illegal synthetic opioids such as tramadol and fentanyl. The rate of these very deadly overdoses from these forms of opioids (non-methadone) have risen dramatically at least 88 percent annually since 2013. In fact, in 2016 it more than doubled to close to 20,000, from almost 10,000 in 2015.

Heroin continues to be a huge problem, states the NCHS report. In the past four years, the rate of overdosing deaths from heroin has climbed almost 20 percent annually.

This rampant opioid crisis has resulted in strong awareness of prescription painkillers. In the time between 1999 and 2009, the overdose rate from prescription pain medicine rose by 13 percent per year. This increase has slowed down dramatically, to three percent per year now.

In 2009, narcotics that had been prescribed were part of 26 percent of all reported fatal drug overdoses. Heroin was involved in 9 percent, and synthetic opioids were involved in 8 percent. To compare, in 2016 these prescription drug related deaths dropped to 23 percent. However, heroin has risen to almost 25 percent, and synthetic opioids to almost 30 percent.

These increases have become so significant that they have contributed to the shortening of the life expectancy of US citizens for the second straight year.

Drug Overdoses: Comparisons by State

States with the highest overdose rates last year were Ohio, New Hampshire, and West Virginia. TheNCHS report stated that the overdose rate in West Virginia alone was over two and a half times the national average of 20 per 100,000.

While national drug overdose outlooks look daunting, it is incredible awful in some states. 22 states (and Washington DC) had rates of overdose quite higher than the national average. While overdose rates have increased across all age ranges, the gains were the most significant in the age range between 25 and 54.

Data for next year from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention have shown no signs of slowdown for the drug overdose epidemic. It is estimated that over 68 thousand people will die of drug-related overdoses in 2018. Robert Anderson, the chief of mortality statistics at the NCHS states:

Based on what has been seen, it doesn’t look as if it’s going to get much better.

It is stated that data for the upcoming year is incomplete, as it takes a significant amount of time to properly conduct toxicology reports and death investigations. However, the 2017 estimates have been quite concerning, mainly because even incomplete data shows a drastic increase.

Specialist on addiction Andrew Kolodny, MD (director of PROP, Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing), mentions how, despite these incredibly high overdose numbers, there was a silver lining of indications of better news to come:

“Even though deaths are going up among people who are addicted heroin users, who use black-market opioids … it’s possible that we are preventing less people from becoming addicted through better prescribing,”

Many studies have proven that, as rates of opioid prescriptions remain very high in the United States, they have decreased from 81 prescriptions per 100 people to 70 per 100 from 2010 to present. Dr. Kolodny also pushed recent surveys that indicated opioids being far less abused by teenagers and young adults.

The Opioid Crisis as a Public Health Emergency

Last October, President Trump made the declaration that the opioid crisis was officially a “public health emergency”, stating the following:

As Americans, we cannot allow this to continue. It is time to liberate our communities from this scourge of drug addiction. We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic.”

The following week, the CCDA (Commission on Combating Drug Addiction) published its finalized report, with over 50 recommended actions to assist in solving the opioid crisis. Some of these included:

  • Expansions of medicated assisted treatment, such as rehab and detox,
  • Increasing drug court numbers,
  • Coordination of electronic health records nationwide, and
  • Increasing education capacity of prescribed patients.

Whatever the case, many things need to change and enhance with opioid and drug education on a national scale. As Commission member and former House of Representatives member Patrick Kennedy says:

“We’ve got ourselves a human addiction tsunami, and we need all hands on deck.”

If yourself or a loved one is currently facing addiction, and is ready to obtain assistance, give Detox of South Florida a call to see how we can help on the road to recovery.

Drug Overdoses: The Human Addiction Tsunami
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