“Opioid Epidemic” in the United States

There is an “opioid epidemic” in the US. The National Center for Health Statistics documented this alarming trend in a September 2014 data brief. The brief noted, “Poisoning is the leading cause of injury death in the United States. Drugs—both illicit and pharmaceutical—are the major cause of poisoning deaths, accounting for 90% of poisoning deaths in 2011.” The number of these deaths is greater than the number of people killed by firearms or traffic accidents.

The more prescriptions are written for opioids, the more people die. A recent paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research has published research that ties increases of opioid use, both legitimate and illicit, to increases of opioid prescription to the Medicare population. The CDC estimates that for every prescription painkiller death there are 10 admissions for abuse, 31 ER visits, 130 people who abuse or are dependent and 825 “nonmedical” users.