The current prescription pill and heroin epidemic is having devastating impacts in all parts of the United States. No matter what part of the country you live in, drug overdoses due to the abuse of these substances has affected every age and demographic group. While this epidemic is an equal opportunity destroyer of lives, a recent study has shown that drug overdoses are the biggest killer among young people in the United States.
Recently, the New York Times had conducted a massive study in which they analyzed the death certificates of nearly 60 million people that were collected by the Centers for Disease Control from 1999 to 2014. The results of this study showed that drug overdoses have killed young white adults in the 25-34 age range at an astonishing rate.
According to the study, the overdose death rate for whites ages 25 to 34 in 2014 was five times its level in 1999, and the rate for 35- to 44-year-old whites tripled during that period. These numbers cover both illegal substances such as heroin as well as prescription medications. Additionally, the study also found that death rates for non-Hispanic whites were either rising or holding steady for all the adult age groups under 65 years of age.
“It is Like an Infection Model”
The dramatic and startling surge in drug overdose deaths due to the surge in prescription painkiller and heroin abuse has seemingly negated the medical advancements that have been made for most age groups of whites. In the New York Times article detailing the results of the study, Dartmouth economist Jonathon Skinner was quoted as saying the following:
“It is like an infection model, diffusing out and catching more and more people.”
What is interesting to note is that while the death rates for young white adults have risen dramatically over the last 15 years, death rates due to drug overdose among young black adults have only experienced a slight increase. Overall, the death rate for blacks in the United States have been steadily decreasing due in large part to the substantial decline in deaths due to AIDS. If current trends continue to hold, the overall death rates for whites and blacks will be equal within nine years.
Drug Overdose Deaths Hitting New Levels
The shocking increase in prescription painkiller and heroin use in the United States has made drug overdoses the biggest killer in the United States, and the death toll is continuing to climb. According to a recent report by the CDC, nearly half a million Americans died from drug overdoses between 2000 and 2014. In 2014–which is the most current year for full statistics–the death rate of those who overdosed on painkillers and heroin increased 14 percent in that year alone.
In 2014, 47,055 people in the United States died of drug overdoses, and that breaks down to 125 people dying per day. According to a recent New York Times article, death rates due to drug overdoses in rural areas now outpace those in urban areas. Additionally, the article also points out that the upward trend in this growing epidemic is causing tremendous amounts of concern in certain areas of the country.
In New Hampshire, the skyrocketing deaths due to opiate abuse has made it the main campaign topic for Presidential hopefuls. In parts of Appalachia, a substantial increase in workplace injuries has caused an increase in painkiller abuse. In fact, the state of West Virginia has filed an unprecedented lawsuit targeting drug suppliers accusing them of making millions of dollars by pushing painkillers on to seemingly anyone who seeks these drugs.
Time for Action
With drug overdoses climbing in this country and causing tremendous devastation in many communities, there have been steps taken by lawmakers in order to stem the tide. For example, President Obama has put the spotlight on prescription painkiller abuse by unveiling his administration’s Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Plan.
This four point plan includes educational programs focusing on the dangers of prescription medications as well as the implementation of prescription drug monitoring programs. Additionally, the plan seeks to develop convenient and environmentally responsible prescription drug disposal programs to help decrease the supply of unused prescription drugs in the home, as well as increase law enforcement efforts against pill mills and improper prescribing practices.
Additionally, CVS Pharmacy had made history by being the first pharmacy chain to make the medication Narcan available without prescription. The pharmacy chain had announced that it would make the opioid reversal drug available without prescription in 14 states. Time will tell if these and other similar measures will help decrease the number of drug overdose deaths in the United States.