A deadly drug crisis has swept across the United States in recent years – is this a statement of fact or fiction? From Reefer Madness to laced Halloween candy, there have been many drug scares in the United States. Many of these crises have been overblown, hyped up by the media and over concerned parents. However, the reality is that we may really be in the middle of the deadliest drug crisis ever – it just may not look like what you would expect. Just as truth is stranger than fiction, reality may be more nefarious than what could be imagined.
In diving into the question posed in the title, this post finds that the United States is truly in the middle of one of the most dangerous drug crises ever, and that this crisis is due primarily to the rise in prescription opioids in the country. This is not a story that everyone will want to hear. Many people still picture opioid dens and cocaine-infused parties when they read about drug use in the United States. The reality of drug addiction is much different, as highlighted by Jim LaPierre, a former addict and now an addictions counselor in Maine:
“What does a drug addict look like? Well, if you judge a book by its cover – they look like me. They also look like CEOs, soccer moms, and your grandmother. This is especially true when we cross the line between drug dependence and addiction. Moving from dependence to addiction is more than simply requiring the drugs in one’s system. Addiction can be triggered in dozens of different ways. Nobody intends to become addicted. It’s a hell that we find ourselves in.”
Jim’s story highlights the fact that the drug crisis in the United States may look different than the seedy motels and drug dealers typically imagined – but that does not make it any less dangerous. If you are looking for more information about drug abuse and addiction, this post is not meant to alarm you. Instead, we aim to show that the deadly drug crisis in the United States may look different than you would expect – and that something must be done about it.
Statistics About the Current Drug Crisis in the United States
According to a recent headline from Vox, an online magazine and popular publication, the United States is the middle of the deadliest drug crisis ever. To back up the claim that the drug crisis has only worsened in recent years, the magazine article highlights fifteen of the key elements of the epidemic. These are quoted verbatim, since they provide one of the clearest pictures of the drug crisis in the United States. The most insightful statistics are bolded, as they are the most alarming indicators that the drug crisis is on the rise. German Lopez and Sarah Frostenson, writing for Vox, report that:
- Drug overdoses now kill more people than gun homicides and car crashes combined
- Drug, painkiller, heroin, and other opioid overdose deaths are still on the rise
- Opioid overdoses are one reason US life expectancy declined for the first time in decades
- The epidemic is much worse in some states than others
- By and large, the drug overdose epidemic has hit white Americans the hardest
- Americans consume more opioids than any other country
- In some states, doctors have filled out more painkiller prescriptions than there are people
- Drug companies have made a lot of money from opioids
- At the same time, Americans report greater levels of pain
- Painkillers are often prescribed for long periods of time, even though there’s no evidence they effectively treat chronic pain
- 11)States are now cracking down on opioid prescriptions
- 12)Opioid users moved from painkillers to heroin, because heroin is so cheap
- 13)Fentanyl has become a growing problem as well
- 14)Anti-anxiety drugs are involved in more overdoses as well
- Most people who meet the definition for a drug use disorder don’t get treatment
Each of these insights, taken alone, does not necessarily point to the current opioid epidemic as the deadliest drug crisis ever. However, taken altogether, these statistics create an alarming picture of what the drug crisis in the United States looks like today. The most alarming part of this insightful article has to do with where the drug epidemic stems from. While certain illicit drugs certainly have a part to play in the crisis, the fifteen statistics cited by the Vox article above show that the biggest problem has to do with prescription drugs. In a phrase, the United States may be in the middle of the deadliest drug crisis ever due primarily to prescription opioids rather than illegal substances.
The Truth About Prescription Opioids in the US: Cause of the Drug Crisis?
Several of the statistics provided by the Vox article above have to do with the rise of prescription medication in the United States. More specifically, prescription opioids have been on the rise for the last couple of decades, which some point to as the major cause behind the rising drug crisis in the United States. In fact, from 1991 to 2013 the number of opioid pain relievers prescribed in the United States jumped from 76 million to 207 million. Even more alarming, the United States accounts for nearly 100 percent of hydrocodone and over 80 percent of oxycodone prescribed around the world.
“Several factors are likely to have contributed to the severity of the current prescription drug abuse problem. They include drastic increases in the number of prescriptions written and dispensed, greater social acceptability for using medications for different purposes, and aggressive marketing by pharmaceutical companies. These factors together have helped create the broad environmental availability of prescription medications in general and opioid analgesics in particular. This greater availability of opioid (and other) prescribed drugs has been accompanied by alarming increases in the negative consequences related to their abuse. Deaths related to prescription opioids began rising in the early part of the 21st century. By 2002, death certificates listed analgesic poisoning as a cause of death more commonly than heroin or cocaine.”
In other words, prescription opioids result (both directly and indirectly) in more deaths than their illicit counterparts, like heroin and cocaine. This is where the reality of the deadly drug crisis in the United States begins to take shape.
Many different types of prescription medications can be abused after they are prescribed. However, the most commonly abused prescription medication in the United States is prescription opioids. Typically prescribed as painkillers, opioids are highly addictive. This means that when they are taken in any other way than as they were prescribed (i.e. taking too much at one time or taken for too long of a period) prescription opioids can easily lead to addiction. Some of the most commonly prescribed opioids (and therefore the most dangerous medications) include:
The fact that these opioids are commonly prescribed does not mean that they are not dangerous. These types of medications can easily be used for non-medical purposes, which is when they begin to become dangerous and even more addictive.
This non-medical use of prescription opioids is arguably one of the major causes of the current drug crisis in the US – in fact, overdose deaths due to the nonmedical use of prescription opioids escalated over the past two decades, reaching over 16,000 deaths as of 2010. This accounts for a large percentage of total opioid-related deaths, which includes illicit substances like heroin. Of course, this is another factor of the drug crisis: many heroin addicts first became addicted to prescription opioids. Individuals turn to the street drug because it is cheaper and easier to obtain, making it even more dangerous for addicts.
This discussion has shown that the United States truly is in the middle of one of the deadliest drug crises ever. The mere fact that overdose deaths continue to rise substantiates this claim. More than that, however, this post has shown that the rising drug epidemic in the United States is due more than anything to the concurrent rise of prescription opioids in the country. If you or someone you know is addicted to any form of opioid – either heroin or prescription medication – it is crucial that you get the help you need for detoxification and recovery. Feel free to contact us today about your addiction, and avoid becoming a statistic in the deadliest drug crisis ever.