Opioid Crisis in America

Every day, about 90 Americans overdose on Opioids, according to the National Institute Opioid-Crisison Drug Abuse. This has been termed the ‘opiod crisis.’ Opioids come in a variety of modes, including prescription pain relievers, synthetic opioids, and even heroin. The CDC estimates that the “economic burden” of prescription opioid misuse is approximately $78.5 billion a year; this sum includes the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.

The opioid epidemic became prevalent in the late 90s, when healthcare providers began to prescribe them at greater rates, after the risks of addition were downplayed by drug producers. In 2015, nearly 33,000 Americans died of opioid overdose, including by prescription opioids, heroin, and fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid.

The opioid crisis also has an impact on the labor market. A Goldman Sachs economist found that the opioid epidemic may be responsible for the lack of people looking for work in the current job market. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of people working or actively looking for work has fallen since the Great Recession and has stagnated near 63% for the last four years.

The United States Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) released its 5 priorities for dealing with the opioid crisis:

  1. Improving access to treatment and recovery services
  2. Promoting use of overdose-reversing drugs
  3. Strengthening our understanding of the epidemic through better public health surveillance
  4. Providing support for cutting edge research on pain and addiction
  5. Advancing better practices for pain management

In April, HHS announced that they would be administering grants totaling $485 million to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, four U.S. territories, and the free associated states of Palau and Micronesia, in order to combat the crisis. A table including the grant breakdown for each state/territory can be found here.

While the HHS’s efforts are a great start, there is a lot of work to be done. For more information on the epidemic, watch the New England Journal of Medicine special report, given by NIDA Director Dr. Nora Volkow and Dr. Collins, in May 2017.

The response to the opioid crisis by many in the health care field is to stop prescribing opioid medications.  Many cancer patients are being caught in the middle of this crisis. Patients already often underreport their pain, but those who seek assistance from their health care team for pain, are often undertreated or not taken seriously enough. It is crucial for patients to have open and ongoing conversations with members of their health care team to effectively address their pain and need for palliative care.

If you are prescribed opioid medications, here is practical information about opioids.