The Worst Drug Crisis in American History

In 2015, over 52,000 Americans died of drug overdoses (CDC). 33,000 were fatal and two-thirds were from opioids, both prescription painkillers and heroin. The same year, for the first time ever, deaths from heroin alone surpassed gun homicides. This epidemic, like other drugs such as meth, is spread out; it affects big cities like Chicago and Baltimore just as it does small, rural Appalachia, New England, and parts of the Midwest. 

The Beginnings of an Epidemic

This all started in the early 90s when the number of opioid prescriptions just from 76 million in 1991 and 219 million in 2011. As well as an increase in the number of pills prescribed, the potency increased as well. Then states stepped in, arresting doctors and creating drug-monitoring programs. Finally, the pharmaceutical companies reformulated drugs to make them less prone to abuse.

The Continuance of the Epidemic

When the supply of painkillers dropped, addicts turned to heroin which is much cheaper and there’s plenty to go around. While the overdose-preventing drug naloxone is now more widely available, there was still a 23 percent increase in heroin deaths in 2015. Now, alongside heroin, there is a rise in fentanyl abuse. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 50-100 time more potent than morphine. During the first three-quarters of 2016, Maryland’s overdose deaths rose by 62 percent.

Will There Ever Be An End?

Unfortunately, there are no signs that the crisis is letting up. Those trying to help end it have created “safe injection” sites most prominent in the Pacific Northwest and Boston. These places are set up as a way for those who do take drugs to do it in a safe area stocked with naloxone and ready to save lives.

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