America’s Deadly Opioid Epidemic

America’s Deadly Opioid Epidemic

It’s no secret the country has been suffering from an ongoing opioid epidemic.  Overdose deaths from prescription and illicit opioids, including heroine, have increased drastically over the past decade. According to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), overdose rates have quadrupled since 1999.

Why opiates?

Chemistry, not moral failing, accounts for addiction to opiates. Farid Sabet, M.D., Chief Clinical Officer of the ADAMHS Board of Cuyahoga County, stated, “It’s a brain disease that can lead to physical changes like depression, personality changes, G.I. problems, and general infections. When the drug is ingested into the body, it lights up a feeling of euphoria in our brain, and works to mimic many of the body’s systems. After a user’s first time getting high, it takes a higher and higher dose to recreate the feeling.”

What are the statistics?

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids rose from 28,647 in 2014 to 33,091 in 2015. In 2015, the five states with the highest rates of death due to drug overdose were West Virginia (41.5 per 100,000), New Hampshire (34.3 per 100,000), Kentucky (29.9 per 100,000), Ohio (29.9 per 100,000), and Rhode Island (28.2 per 100,000).

-Heroin overdose deaths rose from 10,574 in 2014 to 12,990 in 2015, an increase of 23 percent.

-Overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone rose from 5,544 in 2014 to 9,580 in 2015, an increase of 73 percent. This category of opioids is dominated by fentanyl-related overdoses, and recent research indicates the fentanyl involved in these deaths is illicitly manufactured, not from medications containing fentanyl.

-Taken together, 19,885 Americans lost their lives in 2015 to deaths involving primarily illicit opioids: heroin, synthetic opioids other than methadone (e.g., fentanyl), or a mixture of the two.

-Overdose deaths involving prescription opioids, excluding the category predominated by illicit fentanyl, rose only slightly from 16,941 in 2014 to 17,536 in 2015, a 4% increase.

 NOTE: A portion of the overdose deaths involved both illicit opioids and prescription opioids.


What’s going on at the local level?

Ohio, in particular, has been experiencing devastating effects of this epidemic. Cuyaohoga County alone is projecting nearly 600 overdose deaths in 2017. Recently, Cleveland City Council passed Resolution No. 35-17 that declared the epidemic as a public health emergency.

Treating this dilemma the same way a state/county would treat any other crisis, by declaring it as a public health emergency, allows for the request of additional funding from state and federal government to address the issue. The declaration also has the influence to empower work being done at the local level by cutting through red tape and encouraging EVERYONE to respond to this problem.

The Resolution No. 35-17 can be found here:…/8c123534-2809-4fa2-b90d-…

How is the country responding?

Late in 2016 Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act, which provides new funding ($1 billion) to fight the opioid epidemic, mostly by expanding access to substance use disorder treatment. Furthermore, the CDC stated there needs to be improvement in prescribing opioids, expansion of the treatment of addiction as well as a reduction of access to illegal opioids. Recommendations include the following:

Improve opioid prescribing to reduce exposure to opioids, prevent abuse, and stop addiction.

-Expand access to evidence-based substance abuse treatment, such as Medication-Assisted Treatment, for people already struggling with opioid addiction.

-Expand access and use of naloxone—a safe antidote to reverse opioid overdose.

-Promote the use of state prescription drug monitoring programs, which give health care providers information to improve patient safety and prevent abuse.

-Implement and strengthen state strategies that help prevent high-risk prescribing and prevent opioid overdose.

-Improve detection of the trends of illegal opioid use by working with state and local public health agencies, medical examiners and coroners, and law enforcement.


The emotional and physical agony connected with addiction is intense. Addiction impacts family, friends, the community and society as a whole. Providing quality care, intervention and effective treatment not only save lives, but whole communities as well.


-Megan Phillips, M.A.



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