The opioid epidemic has claimed thousands and thousands of lives in the last decade and a half, and its death rates are now on par with AIDS deaths in the 1990s. Heroin and opioid overdoses are responsible for well over 25,000 deaths per year. This drug crisis did not start overnight, but it has ballooned into the deadliest opioid epidemic in American history.
Over 50,000 Americans Died of Drug Overdoses in 2015
Almost two-thirds of those drug overdoses were related to opioids, including prescription drugs like Percocet and OxyContin. That equals more deaths from drug overdose than any other previous opioid epidemic, including the fairly recent meth epidemic and previous epidemics related to crack and heroin. From another perspective, drug overdoses are now responsible for more American deaths than car accidents. In 1999, car accidents killed twice as many people as drug overdoses. However, in 2014, these stats flipped, with about 40 percent more overdose deaths than car accidents. The numbers continue to grow.
Drug Overdoses Kill More People Than Gun Violence
Again using 2015 as an example, 36,000 people died from gun-related causes in 2015 and nearly 13,000 from gun homicides. That’s compared to 52,000 from drug overdoses. 38,000 people died in car accidents that year as well. At the peak of the AIDS epidemic in 1995, 43,000 people died. Drug overdoses killed more people in 2015 than the combination of car accidents and gun homicides. In statistics from 2014, there were four main drugs responsible for overdose deaths: opioids, heroin, benzos and cocaine. Nearly 19,000 were from opioids and 10,000 from heroin. Far below those were about 8,000 from benzos and 5,000 from cocaine.
In 2014, Opioid Deaths Jumped 369 Percent From 1999
Those are startling numbers, but the reason behind them is that prescriptions for opioids tripled over the last 20 years. The numbers continue to rise and as of 2015, over 550,000 people have died from drug overdoses since 1999. The reason for this huge number is overwhelmingly due to the increase in overdose deaths from opioids. The timeline goes like this:
1.Doctors begin filling record numbers of prescription opioids for pain conditions
2.Large numbers of patients become addicted to opioid painkillers
3.Patients addicted to painkillers move to heroin as it is cheaper and easier to obtain once prescriptions run out
4.Patients then move to fentanyl, which is even cheaper than heroin and more potent as well
The result of this timeline is a opioid epidemic that is becoming deadlier every year and shows little sign of stopping or slowing down.
Another Scary Fact: Opioid Overdoses Have Reduced American Life Expectancy
For the first time in decades, American life expectancy went down in 2015. It was a small dip, from 78.9 to 78.8, but a big cause behind the drop was an increase in drug overdoses. The crisis is worse in some states than others. The largest concentrations are mainly on the East Coast and in the Midwest. However, it has been creeping west as well, with significant deaths occurring in New Mexico, Utah and Nevada.
Opioid Deaths Do Not Discriminate
Though Whites and Native Americans have experienced the largest number of deaths, Black and Latino populations have been catching up in recent years. Since 2010, death rates have climbed over 200 percent for Blacks and 140 percent for Latinos.
Finally, in some states, there are more active opioid prescriptions than there are people.
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