New Statistics on Opioid Addiction Have Been Released
Every year, millions of Americans use opioids to manage pain. Doctor-prescribed opioids are appropriate in some cases, but they just mask the pain—and reliance on opioids has led to the worst drug crisis in American history. New data shows the impact of America’s opioid addiction problems.
Since it takes awhile for all of the data to be reported, some of this data isn’t from last year but it is for the last year where all of data has been tabulated.
Statistics from the CDC, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and the United States (US) Department of Health and Human Services reveal the gravity of the problem.
1. In 2016, health care providers across the US wrote more than 214 million prescriptions for opioid pain medication—a rate of 66.5 prescriptions per 100 people.
2. As many as 1 in 5 people receive prescription opioids long-term for noncancer pain in primary care settings.
3. More than 11 million people abused prescription opioids in 2016.
4. Every day, more than 1,000 people are treated in emergency departments for misusing prescription opioids.
5. More than 40% of all US opioid overdose deaths in 2016 involved a prescription opioid.
6. Drug overdoses claimed the lives of nearly 64,000 Americans in 2016. Nearly two-thirds of these deaths (66%) involved a prescription or illicit opioid.
7. The CDC estimates the total economic burden of prescription opioid misuse in the US is $78.5 billion a year, including the costs of health care, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.
Some Data From 2018 Looks Encouraging
For those of us involved in the opioid addiction epidemic as caregivers, patient advocates, and researchers, there was an interesting moment earlier this year when a series of news stories noted some optimism in the fight against overdose deaths.
Data from the first part of 2018 was released in mid-October of 2018, when Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar commented on preliminary data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and suggested “that the U.S. may be ‘beginning to turn the tide’ on the opioid crisis.” “The seemingly relentless trend of rising overdose deaths seems to be finally bending in the right direction.
We are so far from the end of the epidemic, but we are perhaps at the end of the beginning.”
Because so much of the news surrounding the epidemic is often negative, this was a welcome change to the narrative. It was particularly notable in light of last year’s declaration by President Trump that the opioid epidemic was a public health emergency, as well as Congress’ recent approval of the Support for Patients and Communities Act in October. The hope was that these interventions were starting to make a difference in the trends that have worsened year after year for the past 20 years. But, after analyzing the final CDC data, we wanted to take a deeper dive into the data to help give our readers a better sense for where progress is being made and where significant areas of concern remain.
What Does the Data Actually Show?
Recognizing that the data only extends to March 2018, the final four months do show a slight bend in the curve. In 2017, overdose deaths peaked around 72,000 and the data suggests a slight decrease during early 2018. This “bend” is what prompted the positive comments from Secretary Azar in October. Writing in Vox News, however, German Lopez sounded an important point of caution by noting that the positive trends from October 2017 to March 2018 represent a short time frame in an epidemic that has been decades in the making, and also noted that drug overdose deaths leveled off from 2011-2012 before accelerating as high potency synthetic opioids flooded the market afterwards1. The data
Where Do We Go From Here?
This counrry still has no real plan to address the opioid crisis. In many cities, politicians have made it clear that using drugs on public streets is perfectly fine with them. The immediate result has been self-evident: those people who would’ve normally been sent to jail or be forced to check into Rehab have, not surprisingly, chosen to use more drugs – and that leads to more opioid addiction.
What Does this Say About the Opioid Addiction Epidemic Itself?
It remains too early to cast definitive judgment on what the CDC data says about early 2018. This data may be the earliest signs of progress being made. But, this small decrease should not detract from several critical statistics:
- The number of reported drug overdose deaths from April 2017 to April 2018 increased by 1.1 percent nationally
- Drug overdoses still claimed over 72,000 lives annually through 2017
- Deaths from drug overdoses exceeded that from HIV, car crashes, or gun deaths.3