Here’s a look at the opioid crisis.
Experts say the United States is in the throes of an opioid epidemic. An estimated 10.1 million Americans aged 12 and older misused opioids in 2019, including 9.7 million prescription pain reliever abusers and 745,000 heroin users.
Opioids are drugs formulated to replicate the pain-reducing properties of opium. Prescription painkillers like morphine, oxycodone and hydrocodone are opioids. Illegal drugs like heroin and illicitly made fentanyl are also opioids. The word “opioid” is derived from the word “opium.”
In 2019, there were 70,630 overdose deaths in the United States and 49,860 of those overdose deaths involved opioids.
More than 130 people died every day from opioid-related drug overdoses in 2016 and 2017, according to the US Department of Health & Human Services.
Prescription opioid volumes peaked in 2011, with the equivalent of 240 billion milligrams of morphine prescribed, according to the market research firm, IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science. In 2018, prescription opioid volume fell by 29.2 billion morphine milligram equivalents, a dramatic decline.
Opioids such as morphine and codeine are naturally derived from opium poppy plants more commonly grown in Asia, Central America and South America. Heroin is an illegal drug synthesized from morphine.
Hydrocodone and oxycodone are semi-synthetic opioids, manufactured in labs with natural and synthetic ingredients.
Fentanyl is a fully synthetic opioid, originally developed as a powerful anesthetic for surgery. It is also administered to alleviate severe pain associated with terminal illnesses like cancer. The drug is up to 100 times more powerful than morphine. Just a small dose can be deadly. Illicitly produced fentanyl has been a driving factor in the number of overdose deaths in recent years.
Methadone is another fully synthetic opioid. It is commonly dispensed to recovering heroin addicts to relieve the symptoms of withdrawal.