The Opioid Epidemic

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Drug abuse is one of the most prevalent problems in the united states with overdoses claiming more lives than vehicular accidents with recent statistics indicating that the problem is worsening due to a sharp rise in opioid abuse. It estimated that 60 percent of Americans regard drug abuse as a major problem since they know an individual who is or was abusing drugs (MSV). Although various methods have been used to reduce drug abuse, like the war on drugs by President Richard Nixon to the expansion of rehabilitation centers and stricter controls of prescription opioids by President Barak Obama; minimal success has been achieved (MSV). In this paper, I shall explore the extent of the problem as well as possible solutions.

Illicit Drug Abuse Statistics.

 In a 2013 study, it was discovered that approximately 9 percent of the population are users of prohibited drugs with the population being similar across racial groups with 72 percent of the public regarding drug use to be a severe problem (MSV). Approximately 62 percent regarding the problem as being prevalent in the population (MSV). It was discovered that individuals from the black community were more inclined to view drug abuse as a serious threat and prevalent than members of the white community.

The national survey also sought to establish personal experiences of the respondents in relation to drug abuse, with 60 percent responding that they know individuals who have engaged in drug abuse (MSV). Such individuals also considered themselves knowledgeable about the drug abuse problem and apart from regarding it as a serious one, they were also more interested in finding solutions to the matter.

When the participants were questioned on whether it was individual choices or peer pressure that occasioned drug addiction, an overwhelming majority declared that individuals were to blame for their drug addiction regardless of their age or education (MSV).

While certain groups such as college students, young adults, and members of the black community were rated as being prone to cite societal factors as causes of drug abuse, a majority still cites personal choices as the leading cause of drug abuse (MSV). However, the survey team did not explore public opinion on whether genetics played a role in influencing drug abuse.

From the survey, it can be concluded that drug abuse is an already prevalent problem which is bound to get worse if drastic solutions are not implemented since prescription opioid deaths are on the rise in what is now considered as an epidemic. In the past, the main drugs that were abused were cocaine, heroin, and amphetamines which were hard to come by and were risky to purchase either due to the possibility of getting arrested or getting robbed by the drug dealers which barred many from exploring them.

Opioid Pandemic Statistics.

However, the introduction of prescription painkillers containing opioids such as OxyContin has increased opioid use in America due to their mainstream appearance as well as the ease with which they can be obtained. Many individuals are able to obtain illegal prescriptions of opiates which ushers them into the world of opioid use in a less serious way that buying heroin does.

It has been established that abusing prescription drugs is similar to abusing heroin as they can cause addiction and death due to overdoses, additionally as prescription opioid abusers develop a resistance they begin to abuse heroin which is much stronger. Government statistics indicate that approximately 80 percent of individuals who are abuse heroin began with opioid prescription medicine.

It is estimated that an average of 115 lives are lost every day due to opioid overdoses with the annual economic cost of prescription drug abuse being $78.5 billion with medical, law enforcement and lost productivity were considered (NIH). Considering these losses are from opioids alone shows how significant the American drug abuse problem is.

Government statistics indicate that the U.S. is currently experiencing the largest opioid crisis because addiction rates have increased rapidly and do not show any signs of reducing. In September 2017, it is estimated that 45 states recorded a 30 percent jump in overdoses a year earlier (NIH). Majority of these states were in the Midwestern region where a 70 percent increase was recorded in the same period (NIH). The government also established that large cities in 16 states, a 54 percent jump in the number of opioid overdoses was registered between 2016 to 2017 (NIH).

Overall, it is estimated that on an annual basis, $193 billion is used to purchase illegal drugs such as cocaine while an estimated $249 billion and $300 billion are used to buy alcohol and tobacco respectively (NIDA). While the latter may be legalized, they still pose a significant risk to public health since they can cause illnesses such as cancer and liver cirrhosis leading to death or overwhelming of the public health system with preventable ailments. Therefore, legal drugs such as tobacco and alcohol not only reduce economic productivity through their purchase but also through public healthcare expenditure.

Government Interventions.

 In the U.S. there have been several government interventions such as using agencies such as the “Drug Enforcement Administration” in prosecuting organizations that are involved in drug trafficking. Apart from that, the government has also set up drug rehabilitation centers where addicts can check in for free treatment (NIH). Measures such as monitoring issuance of opioid prescriptions by health facilities in order to identify rogue facilities have also been used (NIH).

The increase in drug overdoses indicates that the measures mentioned above are failing due to various reasons such as the adaptation of drug traffickers who due to their huge finances and influence are able to either infiltrate law enforcement or find ingenious methods of evasion. It has been reported that government rehabilitation centers are also overwhelmed by the number of individuals seeking treatment. This is largely due to underfunding of such centers which are then forced to have long waiting lists of individuals since many are unable to afford private centers.

Possible Solutions.

Therefore, radical methods are needed in order to significantly reduce drug abuse in America. One of the methods I think can successfully tackle this problem is the decriminalization of hard drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and amphetamines with offenders being placed in rehabilitation centers where they receive professional assistance.

            By decriminalizing the use and possession of hard drugs, the government shall reduce the fear and stigma associated with the use of these drugs which shall be instrumental in reducing the number of overdoses and promote rehabilitation. Without the fear of being arrested, addicts may be motivated to use drugs in more controlled environments and in fewer doses as they do not feel pressured to hide. Due to the criminalization of drugs, many users opt to hide and thus use the drugs in solitude which increases their chances of experiencing a fatal overdose.

 Without the fear of arrest, many addicts may decide to maintain social contact while abusing drugs which may lessen the risk of overdoses since addicts may not feel isolated as they normally would. It would also increase the number of drug users seeking professional help even if they are in the early stages of addiction because of the reduced penalties and stigma associated with drug abuse. This would prove to be invaluable in reducing cases of drug addiction because new addicts would seek help earlier helping them break their habit before it gets out of hand.

Decriminalizing illicit drugs such as cocaine and heroin would also reduce government resources dedicated to law enforcement agencies and the prison department. A significant population of incarcerated individuals are serving sentences due to possessing or selling illicit drugs with the government using a lot of money on these individuals. Additionally, law enforcement agencies dedicated to reducing proliferation and use of illicit drugs such as the FDA require significant resources all which could be directed to rehabilitation centers and other programs.

            Another strategy that I think should be employed is the provision of drugs that prevent overdoses such as naloxone to both drug users and their family members who may be able to administer the drugs if need be. Drug users should also be provided with alternative drugs such as methadone which is used to treat drug addiction and those who wish to continue should be encouraged to visit rehabilitation centers where proper doses can be administered by medical personnel.

By offering treatment and administration of drugs simultaneously, the government can be able to keep track of drug addicts, reduce the power of black market sellers, offer support and guidance to addicts and influencing them to gradually reduce their drug intake. It would, therefore, be easier for government agencies to rehabilitate addicts which may lead to an increase in insight on the matter due to the increased contact with addicts.

For homeless addicts, I would recommend that apart from enrolling them in the programs mentioned above, they should be offered food and shelter. These individuals should also be taught how to integrate into society through voluntary community service programs in which participants are rewarded with better living conditions such as better meals and entertainment. In my opinion, I believe this would motivate the addicts to lead better lives due to the support and guidance structures such programs would expose them to.


Statistics indicate that despite the efforts of agencies such as the FDA, illegal drugs still proliferate into the country damaging both the economy and society. The continued proliferation of illegal drugs has led to the accumulation of huge currency reserves for the criminal organizations involved making them increasingly harder to stop as they are capable of organizing complex evasion and distribution measures. Therefore, there is a need to reduce the commercial viability of illegal drugs through decriminalization and provision of safe doses by the government which due to such measures increases its control over drug users and the drug trade. 

Works Cited.

NIDA. “Trends & Statistics.” NIDA, 24 Apr. 2017,

MSV. “The Problem of Drug Addiction in the United States.” College of Mount Saint Vincent, 2 Nov. 2017,

NIH. “Opioid Overdose Crisis.” NIDA, 6 Mar. 2018,

August 21, 2023




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