In a report published on June 5, the New York Times estimated that 59,000-60,000 people died from overdoses in 2016. The publication reports that this is the “largest annual jump ever recorded in the United States.”
From this preliminary data, CBS News gathered that drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. This means that drug overdoses are the number one cause of accidental death for adults between 18 and 50 years old.
In 2014, there were 52,000 documented drug overdose deaths. With headlines emerging on a daily basis that support further evidence of increasing overdose rates in 2017, it is likely that the as-yet-official figures for 2016 could be even worse for the current year.
The figures, no matter the year, are shocking. The rates at which overdose deaths continue to increase speaks to an epidemic of massive proportions—one that leaves destruction in its wake.
With synthetic opioids at the center of this public health crisis, law enforcement and health officials are struggling to combat the epidemic. In many instances, individuals who have taken synthetic opioids are unable to be revived by Narcan—the overdose antidote that has saved countless lives since its creation.
Although the data for 2016 has not been finalized and cannot be attributed to opioids specifically, supporting research suggests that opioids have played a significant role.
Combatting an Epidemic
As posted about last week, the opioid crisis took hold when many major pharmaceutical companies touted opioids as being safe, and with low risk of addiction. Much of this information was based on a letter written in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1980.
The title of the letter?
“Addiction rare in patients treated with narcotics.”
With over 600 citations of this letter since its publication, it is apparent that misinformation regarding the addictiveness of opioids has been circulated for decades.
Today, with up to 36 million people estimated (by NIDA) to abuse opioids worldwide, it is clear that action must be taken to combat an ever-swirling epidemic.
The action must begin with increased prevention efforts which will allow patients to become better educated on the risks of taking opioids for chronic pain or other medical issues. For those individuals already affected by the harmful effects of opioids, addiction treatment must be made a priority—and made readily available to those who need it.
In a report by the US Surgeon General Dr. Viviek Murthy in late 2016, officials estimated that only ten percent of those struggling with addiction seek and receive the needed treatment.
Dr. Murthy stated at the time that the public should view addiction, “Not as a moral failing but as a chronic illness that must be treated with skill, urgency, and compassion.”
“The way we address this crisis is a test for America,” he concluded.
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