Opioid Crisis in the United States

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Opioid Crisis in the United States

Opioids are classes of drugs that consist of banned substances such as strong pain relievers including fentanyl, morphine, codeine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone as well as heroin.

Statistics on Opioid Use

Statistics have indicated that about 33,000 individuals lost their lives due to excess use of opioids in 2015. Moreover, approximately, 1000 people in the country are treated each day in the emergency department for using opioids prescriptions (Dasgupta et al., 2018).

Opioid Crisis

Again, drug overdose is greatly contributing to the unintended loss of lives in the United States, and addiction to opioid is acting as a catalyst to this epidemic. Opioid crisis refers to the fast upsurge in the utilization of non-prescription and prescription opioid drugs in the country. The problem started in the late 1990s and is sustained in the past two decades (Hadland et al., 2016). Opioid crisis is a serious public health concern in the United States because of its health and economic burden.

How Opioids Work

Opioid is a drug, which attaches itself in the spinal cord and brain receptors interrupting pain signals. They also trigger the reward regions in the brain by emitting the hormone dopamine, establishing a sense of 'high' or euphoria (Cicero et al., 2016).

Opioids such as codeine and morphine are naturally manufactured from poppy plants. The opium plants are widely growth in South America, Central America, and Asia. Morphine is used to derive Heroin drugs (Dasgupta et al., 2018). Oxycodone and hydrocodone are sub-synthetic opioids produced in laboratories with synthetic and natural ingredients. Hydrocodone is the most extensively prescribed drug since 6.2 billion pills of the drugs were dispensed across the country (Cicero et al., 2016). Reports from the International Narcotics Control Boards in 2015 highlighted that the consumption of hydrocodone in the United States accounts for about 99.7 percent of the total intake in the world. Similarly, Fentanyl is synthetic opioid initially produced to serve in the surgery anesthetic (Hadland et al., 2016). It is also used to eliminate severe pain related to fatal diseases. Fentanyl is estimated to be 100 times more potent as compared to morphine.

Overdose and Mortality

The overdoses of drugs has turnout to be a major cause of mortality in United States for persons below 50 years. Based on the US Drug enforcement Administration, 66 percent of deaths from such overdoses take places from opioid use (Dart et al., 2015). In 2016, the country recorded approximately 63,600 deaths due to overdose out of which 66.4 percent (42249) involved opioid overdose which represent a mean of 115 deaths because of opioid overdose each day. Additionally, more than 50 percent of all opioid overdoses mortalities in 2016 encompassed prescription opioids (Dasgupta et al., 2018). The period between 1999 and 2008 was characterized by high rate of substance abuse, sale, and overdose mortality rate linked to opioid. On the other hand, the level of opioid prescriptions from medical practitioners gradually increased in 2012 to 282 million prescriptions from 112 million in 1992. However, in the recent past, it has recorded a decrease to 236 million prescriptions. Notably, over two million people in the United States have become addicted to opioids or misuse prescription street drugs and pain pills (Cicero et al., 2016).

Impact on Life Expectancy and Economy

The rising overdose of opioids and the subsequent deaths has greatly contributed to the decline the general life expectancy in the United States. For instance, general life expectancy dropped to 78.6 from 78.7 years (Hadland et al., 2016). The crisis is disproportionately affecting more me than women. The number of deaths linked to this crisis increased by 21 percent in 2016 as compared to 2015. Public health experts have predicted that more than 500,000 individuals across the country could perish from the crisis in the next 10 years. Fentanyl is a very potent opioid, which is major cause of these deaths. Furthermore, in 2015, United States lost nearly $504 billion from the opioid crisis. For this reason, it is essential to introduce urgent measures to curb the menace (Cicero et al., 2016).

Health Problems and Spread of Diseases

Opioids crisis has also led to a wide range of health problems in the country such as spread of infectious disease such as Hepatitis C and D, addiction, deaths and economic burden (Kolodny et al., 2015). For instance, victims who are addicted to the drug suffer from withdrawal symptoms after they cease from using the pills. Research has indicated that dependence is usually attached to tolerance, suggesting that opioid users require to increasingly huge doses of the prescription for similar effects (Dasgupta et al., 2018). Besides, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration noted that 11.5 million individuals in the US above 12 years abused opioids in 2016. In the same year, 948,000 people aged 12 years and above used heroin. Persons who become addicted to the pain pills may revert to heroin since it is quite cheaper than prescription drugs. Data pointed to the fact that from 2002-2016, heroin-related overdose mortalities escalated by 533 percent (Hadland et al., 2016).

Economic Impact

Reports in 2013 pointed out that the US loses more than $78.5 billion due to opioid dependence, abuse and overdose. The large proportion of this cost is attributed to spending on criminal justice, and healthcare as well as productivity loss (Cicero et al., 2016). The recent statistics estimates higher costs since the crisis has deteriorated with deaths and overdoses doubling in the past three years.


Opioid crisis represent one of the serious epidemics in United States since approximately 42,000 people perished from opioids overdoses. The use of non-prescription and prescription drugs has escalated to since late 1990s and it reached the peak in 2012 (Dasgupta et al., 2018). Currently, more than 2 million people in the country use opioids drugs. Therefore, it means that the country lost a mean of 115 people per day. Furthermore, the economic burden associated to dependence, abuse, healthcare and productivity loss was projected to be $78 billion in 2013 (Dart et al., 2015). Some of the common categories of opioids, which are abused, include fentanyl, hydrocodone, and oxycodone.


Cicero, T. J., Ellis, M. S., & Harney, J. (2015). Shifting patterns of prescription opioid and heroin abuse in the United States. New England Journal of Medicine, 373(18), 1789-1790.

Dart, R. C., Surratt, H. L., Cicero, T. J., Parrino, M. W., Severtson, S. G., Bucher-Bartelson, B., & Green, J. L. (2015). Trends in opioid analgesic abuse and mortality in the United States. New England Journal of Medicine, 372(3), 241-248.

Dasgupta, N., Beletsky, L., & Ciccarone, D. (2018). Opioid Crisis: No Easy Fix to Its Social and Economic Determinants. American journal of public health, 108(2), 182-186.

Hadland, S. E., Wood, E., & Levy, S. (2016). How The Pediatric Workforce Can Address The Opioid Crisis. Lancet (London, England), 388(10051), 1260.

Kolodny, A., Courtwright, D. T., Hwang, C. S., Kreiner, P., Eadie, J. L., Clark, T. W., & Alexander, G. C. (2015). The prescription opioid and heroin crisis: a public health approach to an epidemic of addiction. Annual review of public health, 36, 559-574.

October 13, 2023



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