According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), more than 130 people in the United States die of an opioid overdose every day.
The misuse and abuse of opioids represent a national crisis in 2019. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that the total economic burden associated with the abuse of prescription opioids in the United States is over $78 billion per year.
Data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and other sources reveals the following:
Although opioid medications had been around for many years, in the 1990s, pharmaceutical companies began to aggressively market them.
Many pharmaceutical companies reassured people in the medical profession that their patients would not become addicted to prescription opioid pain relievers and provided incentives to physicians to prescribe these drugs.
In addition, some of the results from research pharmaceutical companies had been doing were not revealed to the medical community. This included information on the potential addictive nature of oxycodone products.
The increase in the prescription of these medications resulted in greater availability for potential drug abusers. Opioid overdose rates increased along with the growing number of prescriptions.
At the time of this writing, the most complete available data on deaths due to opioid overdoses is for 2017.
The full data for 2019 will not be available until late 2020. The data for 2018 will be available in late 2019.
The figures in this article are based on the 2017 results that have been published by the CDC.
According to the CDC, the overall mortality rate from drug overdoses in 2017 was 70,237. Of this figure, nearly 68 percent involved an opioid overdose (47,600).
The change in opioid overdose deaths from 2016 to 2017 represented a 12 percent increase; however, preliminary data for 2018 suggests an overall drop in the number of drug overdose deaths in the U.S.
The mortality rate associated with an opioid overdose varies significantly, depending on the opioid.
Ready to get help?
Give us a call.
These types of opioids are man-made substances that mimic the actions of the naturally occurring opioids that are processed from the opium in the poppy plant, like morphine. Synthetic drugs include familiar drugs like methadone, tramadol, and fentanyl. They also include illicitly made fentanyl and other illicitly manufactured opioids that may be available.
Fentanyl is a particular opioid of interest. It is estimated to be 50 times more potent than heroin and nearly 100 times more potent than morphine.
The pharmaceutical form of fentanyl is prescribed to manage severe pain, especially pain in those who have become tolerant to other opioids. It can be used to treat cancer pain or even end-of-life chronic pain.
Nonpharmaceutical fentanyl is manufactured illegally. It may be mixed with drugs like heroin and cocaine, and users may take it without knowing what they are using. It is this form of the drug that is of particular interest regarding opioid overdose deaths because of its potency.
Overdose deaths that involved a synthetic opioid other than methadone accounted for more than half of all opioid overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2017. According to the data:
The data allows us to speculate that the large number of overdose deaths associated with fentanyl may have occurred in individuals who had been taking the drug mixed with some other drug like heroin or cocaine. In many cases, the user probably did not know how much fentanyl was actually in the drug they were taking (if they knew at all).
CDC data illustrates a sharp rise in the number of overdose deaths associated with synthetic opioids across many states and across the country in general. This rise is most likely attributable to illicit fentanyl or other synthetic analogs of fentanyl, like carfentanil, which is estimated to be 10,000 times more potent than morphine.
The data collected by the CDC indicates that even people who use only nonopioid substances experience a greater risk of overdosing if they are exposed to substances that are mixed with opioids. The addition of fentanyl may be a significant factor in overdose-related deaths for many different types of drugs.
For instance, a research study covering 10 states showed that:
SAMHSA reported that in 2017, almost 500,000 people over the age of 12 reported using heroin at least once. The risk factors for heroin use are:
Prescription painkillers are used in the treatment of different types of pain. These medications include morphine, codeine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, and related products. They are efficient pain relievers, but they do carry a significant risk of abuse.
The available data indicates that in 2017:
The United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has partnered with other organizations in an effort to:
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) provides workshops, conventions, and other resources to develop safer strategies to manage chronic pain. The goal is to develop new technologies to assist in the treatment of opioid use disorders, and to invest resources in prevention, particularly the prevention of opioid overdoses.
Signs that someone has overdosed on opioids include:
If an opioid overdose is suspected:
Other treatments may be attempted by medical personnel. They may intubate the person if they have stopped breathing, administer fluids, and give medications to address specific symptoms that may be present, such as reduced heart rate or decreased blood pressure.
(January 2019) Opioid overdose crisis. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved August 2019 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/opioid-overdose-crisis
(October 2018) Opioid overdose crisis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved August 2019 from https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/index.html
(October 2018) National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved August 2019 from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/cbhsq-reports/NSDUHDetailedTabs2017/NSDUHDetailedTabs2017.pdf
(February 2009) The promotion and marketing of oxycontin: commercial triumph, public health tragedy. American Journal of Public Health. Retrieved August 2019 from https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/pdfplus/10.2105/AJPH.2007.131714
(January 2019) Drug and Opioid-Involved Overdose Deaths — United States, 2013–2017. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved August 2019 from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/wr/mm675152e1.htm?s_cid=mm675152e1_w
(July 2019) Opioid crisis: US overdose deaths dropped by 5.1%. BBC News. Retrieved August 2019 from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-49026223
(2019) What are synthetic drugs like fentanyl? Drug Policy Alliance. Retrieved August 2019 from http://www.drugpolicy.org/what-are-synthetic-opioids-fentanyl
(January 2019) Everything you need to know about fentanyl. Medical News Daily. Retrieved August 2019 from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/308156.php
(December 2018) Drug and Opioid-Involved Overdose Deaths — United States, 2013–2017. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved August 2019 from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/wr/mm675152e1.htm?s_cid=mm675152e1_w
(November 2017) Deaths Involving Fentanyl, Fentanyl Analogs, and U-47700 — 10 States, July–December 2016. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved August 2019 from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/66/wr/mm6643e1.htm
(November 2018) Drug Overdose Deaths in the United States, 1999–2017. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved August 2019 from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db329.htm
(December 2018) Prescription opioid data. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved August 2019 from from https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/prescribing.html
(April 2017) Secretary Price Announces HHS Strategy for Fighting Opioid Crisis. United States Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved August 2019 from from https://www.hhs.gov/about/leadership/secretary/speeches/2017-speeches/secretary-price-announces-hhs-strategy-for-fighting-opioid-you crisis/index.html
(July 2019) Opioid overdose. MedlinePlus. Retrieved August 2019 from from https://medlineplus.gov/opioidoverdose.html
Understanding naloxone. Harm Reduction Coalition. Retrieved August 2019 from from https://harmreduction.org/issues/overdose-prevention/overview/overdose-basics/understanding-naloxone/