Are Opioids the Killers No One Saw Coming in 2016, 2017 and 2018?
Opioid overdoses have been a concern for quite some time. In fact, a few years ago, they went so far as to call it an epidemic. In looking at some of the more recent facts and figures, it’s clear that we have a crisis on our hands. According to an article on U.S. News & World Report’s website, O.D. deaths have risen 21% in the last year. That is an alarming jump, and it’s more than the last four years combined. If overdose deaths in 2016 were that high, there’s no telling what the future holds. The figures for overdose deaths in 2017 have not yet been released. Acting quickly could change the course of where it appears 2018 will be headed. Let’s take a closer look at what the statistics are showing for the year 2016.
Overdose Statistics for 2016 in the United States
The opioid statistics for our country are grim at best. Some are even calling that year the most lethal year of the drug overdose epidemic. According to CNN, more than 63,600 people lost their lives due to drug overdoses in 2016. The majority of these deaths involved opioid drugs. The report from the CDC tells us that:
- The rate of drug O.D. deaths was more than three times what it was in 1999 in 2016.
- In 1999, there were 6.1 deaths for every 100,000 people.
- By 2016, that number had gone up to 19.8 for every 100,000 people.
- This has been an average increase of 10% each year from 1999 to 2006.
- Between 2006 and 2014, it was a 3% increase per year.
- By 2014 to 2016, it was an 18% increase per year.
- All age groups are identified in the number of deaths from opioids.
- O.D. death rates were highest among those between the ages of 25 and 54.
- Adult males experienced the most increases in overdose deaths.
There were 42,249 drug fatalities because of opioids in 2016. That makes up 66% of the total amount of drug overdoses. To put that into perspective, each year, 41,070 Americans die from breast cancer. Opioids are killing more people than this dreaded disease.
The Drugs That are Killing Americans
Many of the drugs that are taking people’s lives are legally prescribed. Some would argue that they’re prescribed too freely. Oxycodone and hydrocodone (Vicodin) are among the more commonly prescribed opioid drugs. However, Fentanyl has gained some of the spotlight in recent months as well. Heroin is an illegal opioid drug, but it is more popular than ever before. This is mostly because it serves as a substitute when people can no longer obtain prescription opioids. The fact is that even synthetic opioids like Ultram (Tramadol) are dangerous. They’re certainly a part of the problem, even though medical professionals view them as safer.
Heroin Drug Overdoses
Heroin is often the go-to drug for prescription opioid addicts for a few reasons. At times, doctors will refuse to continually prescribe these drugs. Prescribed opioids are also quite expensive, and heroin is a much cheaper option. The heroin overdose statistics in the United States have taken a dramatic turn over the years. It has always been an ongoing problem. However, The Washington Post reported that in 2016, deaths from heroin increased an alarming 20%. The fact is we should have known this was coming. In 2016, the American Society of Addiction Medicine reported that:
- In 2015, there were 12,990 overdose deaths related to heroin.
- Four out of five heroin users begin their drug use by using prescription opioids.
- 94% of responders to a survey indicated that they chose heroin because it was cheaper.
- They also stated that heroin was much easier to obtain the prescription medications.
- During 2015, 21,000 teens reported having used heroin in the last year.
- 5,000 of these adolescents admitted to being current heroin users.
- From 2010 to 2013, heroin overdoses among women tripled.
These statistics should have been a warning of what was to come. It is our hope that the current statistics will sound the alarm that something has to be done.
Prescription Opioid O.D. Deaths
All prescribed opioids are to blame for the increase in overdose deaths. Although, there are some that are more popular than others. Synthetic opioids like Fentanyl and Tramadol seem to be driving the charge. Statistics tell us that:
- Since 2013, the rate of deadly overdoses has increased 88% each year since 2013.
- In 2015, the rate was 9,580.
- By 2016, it had more than doubled to 19,413.
- In 2009, narcotics were involved in only 26% of all overdose cases.
- During that year, synthetic opioids were involved in only 8% of cases.
- Prescription opioids were involved in 23% of all deadly O.D. cases in 2016.
- Synthetics are responsible for nearly 33%.
The sale of prescribed medications has gone up steadily over the years. The CDC reports that from 1999 to 2014, sales nearly quadrupled. Interestingly enough, there really hasn’t been much of a change in the amount of pain Americans are in. The question begs to be asked – If Americans aren’t in more pain, why are more prescriptions being written? It goes without saying that during this timeframe, overdoses have increased at the same rate. The CDC further states that:
- The supply of prescription opioid drugs is at an all-time high in the United States.
- 1 out of 5 patients with non-cancer related pain are prescribed opioids.
- Between 2007 and 2012, opioid prescriptions have increased for the management of both acute and chronic pain.
- Primary care providers are the doctors writing about half of these prescriptions.
- There isn’t enough evidence to support that opioids help with chronic pain.
Healthcare providers are concerned, and they’re right to be. Many of them worry about the risks of abuse, addiction and overdose. Some even state that they haven’t received enough training in pain management.
A Look at 2016 Overdose Deaths by State
West Virginia, Ohio and New Hampshire were the states with the highest overdose rates. In West Virginia, it was more than 2.5 times the national average, at 52 deaths per 100,000 people. Both Ohio and New Hampshire experienced 39 deaths for every 100,000 people. As many as 22 states had O.D. rates that were much higher than national averages. Also, Washington DC was on this list as well. It’s interesting to see the number of prescriptions that are written in these states. In both Ohio and New Hampshire, there were between 96 and 143 written for every 100 people. These states are two of the highest on the CDC’s report. In New Hampshire, there were between 72 and 82.1 written for every 100 people. In the District of Columbia, there were between 82.2 and 95 written for every 100 people. Some states are cracking down on opioid prescriptions, which is encouraging. For example, California, Colorado and New York reported between 52 and 72 prescriptions for every 100 people. While this is great news, there is still so much that needs to be done. There are still 13 states on the map that have people receiving untold amounts of opioids. Every day in 2016, there were 174 deaths from drug overdoses. That means that there was one every 8.5 minutes. This should be enough to have officials concerned. Whereas some states are in worse shape than others, this is a problem that affects us all.
Deaths From Prescription Drugs vs. Illegal Drugs
It is a common belief that illegal drugs are much more deadly than prescription drugs. According to recent research and data, this simply isn’t true. People tend to believe that because prescribed medications come from a doctor, they must be safe. It could be this belief that has caused this myth to be perpetuated. According to Psychology Today, prescription drugs are much more lethal than street drugs. More people are killed every year from prescribed opiates than all illegal drugs combined. When you consider the fact that the sale of Oxycodone has increased 300% since 1999, this is much more believable. Vicodin sales have also gone up at a similar rate. In 2009, the misuse of painkillers led to more than 475,000 emergency room visits. This number almost doubled in five years’ time. In 2010, more than 12 million people admitted to using these drugs non-medically. They either were using them without a prescription, or because they enjoyed the euphoric high. Even when these medications are not being abused, they can still be deadly. If they’re taken the wrong way, or they’re mixed with other drugs or alcohol, the outcome can be disastrous.
What are the Symptoms of an Overdose?
It’s crucial to know what the symptoms of an overdose are. They are hard to miss, and the person experiencing them may not be able to get help. When someone has overdosed on opioids, they may experience:
- Becoming extremely pale in the face
- Skin that feels clammy to the touch
- Limpness of the body
- A purple or blue color to the lips or fingernails
- Vomiting excessively
- Making gurgling sounds
- Unconsciousness, and not able to be woken up
- The inability to speak
- Breathing rate slows down or stops
- Heartbeat slows down or stops
Recognizing these symptoms immediately can be the difference between life and death. It is vital to contact 911 and get help for the individual. Not all overdoses have to be deadly, and far too many of them are. If the paramedics arrive at the scene quickly, they may be able to save the person’s life.
What Has Been Done to Lessen the Number of Opioid Deaths in the U.S.?
Fortunately, there is something being done about the opioid crisis in our country. Some of the more popular medications have been changed, making them more difficult to abuse. Many physicians have started being less free about how often they write these prescriptions as well.
President Trump recently declared the problem a public health emergency. He is quoted as saying, “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.” He went on to issue a report that indicated 50 recommendations. These included increasing the number of drug courts, EHR coordination and improving medication assisted treatment. He also recommended that doctors prescribing these drugs be educated in this area. The issue was that there was no money issued to make these changes a possibility. Until the funds become available, this may be a problem that needs to be dealt with on a local level.
Medications to Counteract Overdoses From Opioid Drugs
Fortunately, drugs like Narcan and Naloxone are available to help curb the opioid epidemic. However, there are some people who will receive several doses of these medications. They will continue to misuse their painkillers, and then require them again. This is no way for anyone to live their lives. Medication assisted therapy has shown to be very effective at helping people overcome addictions, as well as treatment for opioid addiction. Drugs like Suboxone and Buprenorphine have helped many individuals. The key is to keep on getting them into their hands so that they can use them effectively.
What is the Outlook for O.D. Deaths in Our Country in 2018?
Unless something changes, the outlook for 2018 doesn’t look good for the United States. The number of overdoses is expected to increase. According to Stat News, it’s projected that close to half a million people could die in the next decade. That is the rate that this problem is accelerating. The President’s plan sounds really good, and it seems as though it could be quite effective. However, funding is needed to carry it out. It is our hope that 2018 will be a year of promise for opioid addicts. Whether or not they realize it, they need our help.