Opioids — prescription pain relievers and heroin — are an epidemic in the United States, with millions of people having significantly problematic relationships with this addictive class of drugs. — John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

If there is one thing that is becoming a more significant threat in the United States, it would be opioid overdose. It is now one of the major causes of death in the country with over 115 people dying every day due to overdosing on the said drug. These overdose cases that eventually lead to death is due to the misuse, abuse, and addiction to the drug. It often includes prescription pain relievers, heroin, and fentanyl.

Opioid Overdose has become such a big issue that it is now considered a national crisis as per the public health and the social and economic welfare of the country. The estimated financial burden of this, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is about $78.5 billion annually. This includes the expenses due to health care, opportunity costs in productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice procedures.

How Did This Happen?

It all started when pharmaceutical companies back in the late 1990s told people that prescription opioids like pain relievers would not cause addiction, making healthcare providers prescribe the drug in larger doses. Due to this, many people misused the drug, and it was only afterward that it was found that opioids are highly addictive. It caused an increase in an overdose of the drug.

More than 33,000 Americans in 2015 died due to opioid overdose. In the same year and while not mutually exclusive, about 2 million people experienced substance use disorders due to prescription pain relievers while 591,000 suffered from heroin use disorder.

What Do We Know About The Opioid Crisis?


The prevalence of substance abuse among those in the American criminal justice system is six to eight times its prevalence in the general population.  The vast majority – upwards of 80% — of individuals in the justice system have a substance use disorder including addiction, dependence or abuse. — William R. Kelly Ph.D.

  • About 21-29% of patients misuse their prescribed opioids
  • 8-12% develops an opioid use disorder
  • There are also 4-6% people who transition to heroin as a result of abusing prescription opioids
  • 80% of heroin users had misused prescription opioids first
  • There was a 30% increase of opioid overdose in 52 areas of 45 states from July 2016 through September 2017
  • There was a 70% increase of opioid overdose from July 2016 through September 2017 in the Midwest Region
  • There was a 54% increase of opioid overdose cases in large cities in 16 states

With the increasing number of opioid misuse and overdoses and Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, which happens if you use and misuse opioid during pregnancy, the issue has now become a public health crisis with terrible effects. Along with this also rose the use of injections for drug use, which also promotes the spread of infectious diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C. To solve this public health crisis, science plays a significant role and part.


What Are HHS And NIH Doing About It?

To answer the crisis in the misuse and overdose of opioids, there were efforts made by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or HHS. The efforts prioritized the following factors and interventions:

  • Making treatment and recovery services more accessible to people
  • Promoting using drugs that can reverse an overdose
  • Improving public health surveillance to increase the understanding of the epidemic
  • Increasing the support for researches about pain and addiction
  • Improving the practices for pain management

To solve the opioid epidemic in America we need to do more than try to control it. We also need to teach people how to cope with their anger and stress in a more effective way. This requires more than the 12-step program. —

The country’s leading agency for medical research, The National Institutes of Health, is helping in solving this crisis by finding new and improved ways in preventing opioid misuse, treating the disorder, and managing pain. The NIH met with pharmaceutical companies and research centers in 2017 to discuss the following:

  • Strategies for managing pain that is safe, effective, and non-addictive
  • The medications and technologies discovered and innovated that can be used to treat opioid use disorders
  • Improving the prevention of opioid overdose and reversal interventions that can help in recovery and saving lives

The HEAL or Helping to End Addiction Long-term was launched as a trans-agency in April 2018 to help in speeding up finding the scientific solutions for the opioid public health crisis.

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