The prevalence of opioid use and abuse in the United States is no secret; the country has been fighting against an epidemic of overdose deaths nationwide for several years. In 2017, the president even declared the current state of opioid use a public health emergency.
Unfortunately, increased funding and awareness has not made much of a difference. Every day, around 130 people die from opioid overdoses — the highest rate of any commonly abused drug. This poses a great threat to those who take drugs in this class, such as heroin, recreationally, as well as those who take prescription narcotics for pain relief. These opioid abuse stats provide a sobering look into the world of drug abuse in America and the importance of seeking help.
What Are Opioids?
The term “opioids” refers to any substance that attaches to opioid receptors in the brain. These receptors can trigger feelings of euphoria as well as dull pain signals throughout the body. This is why opioids are effective as pain medications, such as during and after surgery, and also why they are readily and commonly abused.
The term opioids refers to both illicit substances, such as heroin, and medications that are legitimately prescribed by physicians, such as oxycodone and morphine. Opiates, on the other hand, refers only to synthetic controlled prescription medications that are derived from opium. Heroin is not considered an opiate.
Of all abused drugs, opioids have far and away the highest abuse rate. This is largely due to the availability of opioids — substances like cocaine are not used in any legitimate medical setting, while thousands of people are prescribed opioids every day.
From wisdom tooth removal to recovery from major surgery, doctors prescribe opioids at an overwhelming rate. In 2017, there were roughly 58 opioid prescriptions written for every 100 Americans. Around 17% of the adult population was provided with a scrip for opiates, with an average of 3.4 prescriptions dispensed per person. The longer use goes on, the more likely it is for a substance use disorder to develop.
While doctors are attempting to reduce the number of opiate prescriptions provided to patients, there aren’t often good alternatives that can fight pain, either on a short-term or long-term basis. As such, opiate prescriptions are still very common, which can lead to increasing rates of addiction.
In addition to prescription opioid use, heroin is also very popular among drug users. In 2017, nearly 500,000 individuals aged 12 and older admitted to using heroin in the past month, a rate of around 0.2 out of every 100 people. Heroin use can be inspired by prescription drug abuse; around 5% of those who start using prescription opioids eventually switch to heroin due to lower costs and greater availability.
Regional Use of Opioids
Opioids are used universally nationwide, with doctors in every city and state writing prescriptions when they feel — correctly or incorrectly — that they are warranted. However, larger cities often have resources that go beyond opioid abuse for chronic pain conditions, like pain management practices that can administer nerve blocks and other treatments. As such, opioid prescriptions are much more common:
- In rural areas and small cities that may not have access to significant alternatives
- Among those of Caucasian descent versus minority patients
- In those who are disabled or unemployed
- Among chronic pain patients for whom alternate treatments are either unsuccessful or unavailable
Midwest states, particularly those in or around the rust belt, have the highest rates of overdose abuse and deaths. In 2017, the states that saw the largest problems included:
- West Virginia, with 57.8 overdose deaths per 100,000 residents
- Ohio, with 46.3 overdose deaths per 100,000 residents
- Pennsylvania, with 44.3 overdose deaths per 100,000 residents
- District of Columbia, with 44.0 overdose deaths per overdose deaths per 100,000 residents
- Kentucky, with 37.2 overdose deaths overdose deaths per 100,000 residents
Many other states have seen year-over-year increases in overdose deaths as well, including Arizona, Wisconsin, Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee, between 2016 and 2017. In some states, such as Ohio, county coroners saw so many overdose deaths that morgues could no longer accommodate the influx of additional bodies.
Opioid Overdose Rates
Overdoses from opioids are very common, both due to the high prevalence of abuse and the ways in which the drug itself affects the body. The part of the brain that is most affected by the use of opiates also regulates bodily functions like breathing. When taken in high doses, respiration can be depressed to the point that the brain no longer receives enough oxygen, causing death.
Overdoses can be combated with quick access to medical care. The medication Naloxone can immediately reverse the effects of opioid use in the body; as such, most police officers and other first responders carry Naloxone regularly to address potential overdose.
Of the over 70,000 overdose deaths that occurred in 2017, nearly 70% involved use of an opioid. Between 1999 and 2017, more than 700,000 people have fallen victim to an opioid overdose. Rates are higher now than ever before.
Heroin is involved in more overdose deaths than prescription narcotics. This is in large part due to the unknown makeup. As drugs like oxycodone are highly regulated, the dosage of each pill is known and understood. Heroin is sold on the street and is commonly cut with other substances, such as fentanyl, an opioid that is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine. In 2016, around half of overdose deaths involved a synthetic opioids, like illegal fentanyl mixed into a dose of heroin.
Opioid Statistics Worldwide
Opioid abuse isn’t a uniquely American problem. Individuals around the world partake in the abuse of prescription narcotics and heroin, leading to a high rate of deaths linked to opioids worldwide.
The World Health Organization estimates that 275 million individuals, or 5.6% of the global population, used drugs at least once in 2016, with 34 million using opioids. An estimated 27 million people suffered from an opioid-related substance use disorder that year. Around one-half of overdose deaths on a worldwide level are related to opioid abuse. Nearly 130,000 deaths in 2015 were attributable to opioids.
Health Care Costs
Addressing the opioid epidemic is not free. In fact, costs can be extremely high, particularly as both state and federal governments allocate funding to attempt to reduce the impact of the problem.
In 2018, national spending related to opioids clocked in at $696 billion. From 2015 to 2018, the US spent $2.5 trillion attempting to fight back against opioid abuse. This incorporates the cost of preventive programming, addiction treatment programs and the resources required to address opioid related deaths.
Public Perception of Opioids
The public perception of opioid users is quite poor. Most of those who abuse opioids, whether prescription medications or heroin, are assumed to be lazy, worthless or unwilling to give up drugs in order to live a better life. Drug users are commonly looked down upon as a drain on society, with harsh judgment from uninvolved individuals related to high overdose rates. Some are even critical of access to free Naloxone, claiming that money allocated to the increased availability would be better spent on resources for what they see as more legitimate health problems.
In spite of this, it’s important to understand that addiction is a disease. Overcoming the physical and mental components of addiction isn’t necessarily a matter of will or desire. That’s why the opioid problem is so widespread — quitting isn’t easy, and without the right resources, it’s almost impossible to stop.
Treatment for Opioid Abuse
Many different treatment programs exist for drug abuse, from inpatient resources to 12-step outpatient groups, but due to perceived high costs or regional availability, few seek the help they need. While a residential step-down program run by medical professionals is commonly accepted as the most effective approach to overcoming opioid addiction, many aren’t willing to take this step. Whether due to denial or fear, only around 10% of the over 21 million Americans living with a substance use disorder sought proper treatment, according to a 2015 study.
In spite of treatment, around 40% to 60% of drug users will relapse. However, this is not an excuse to forgo treatment; seeking professional help is the single best way to increase the likelihood of overcoming addiction for good.
If you or someone you love is facing an addiction to prescription opiates or heroin, help is here. Please contact FHE Health today to learn more about our comprehensive approach to treatment for substance use disorders.