Opioid Crisis in the US


Tom Varco


Manwela Katas

The US is suffering from an opioid crisis due to physicians over prescribing painkillers such as OxyContin, Vicodin, morphine, methadone, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.

After surgeries, physicians have been prescribing opioids as pain killers, allowing patients to experience little or no pain. Doctors also provide opioids to treat chronic diseases such as arthritis, spinal disease, asthma, liver disease, stroke, cancer, and obesity as mentioned by the CDC. As of 2017, it has been estimated that around 191 million opioid prescriptions were written for patients following their surgeries. Many lawsuits have been filed against pharmaceutical companies accusing that they wrongfully market these highly addictive drugs to the public. However, the problem of physicians overprescribing opioids goes undetected, however, much research shows that the majority of people who become addicted begin with a prescription following their operations. Statistics show that about 10 million people have abused opioids starting from the age of 12 as of 2019. According to The Commonwealth Fund in 2020, it has been shown that there was a number of 93,331 deaths caused by opioid overdose.

The problem has had a huge economic impact on the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, $78.5 billion is spent on prescription opioids each year. To address the current economic crisis, the federal government is devoting billions of dollars to substance use disorder (SUD) programs. The Commonwealth Fund is an organization that supports independent research made to improve the healthcare system and its access to the community. Concerning this belief, they say “The country is facing an urgent drug epidemic that worsened during the pandemic. A multitude of policy and treatment options can help reduce further loss of life.”

In a recent US trial in West Virginia, drug distributors were accused of of contributing to the opioid epidemic by shipping too many pills. These distributors included AmerisourceBergen Drug Co, Cardinal Health Inc and McKesson Corp. Aljazeera states in an article published in May 2021, “Hundreds of similar lawsuits have been filed across the country, but the Huntington case has become the focus of national efforts to make drug companies pay for the social and medical costs of the addiction epidemic.” According to the lawsuit, these manufacturers supplied West Virginia approximately 1.1 billion hydrocodone and oxycodone pills. In addition, West Virginia has the highest number of opioid overdose rates in the ​country. Aljazeera continues, saying, “The trial came after the three largest US distributors that supply pharmacies – McKesson Corp, Cardinal Health Inc and AmerisourceBergen Corp – and the drugmaker Johnson & Johnson in July proposed paying up to $26bn to settle cases against them.”

In 2020, 94 opioid overdoses were reported in Fairfax County. In addition, the number one cause of unnatural death in Fairfax County has been due to opioid overdose since 2013. The rate for overdose is higher among the age range of 25-34; however, a large majority of opioid overdose cases are between the ages of 15-34 in Virginia.

This problem began in the late 1990’s when pharmaceutical companies assured public health experts that they are not harmful, so healthcare providers began providing opioid painkillers at increasing rates after learning that they would not lead to addiction. This caused an increase in opioid drug overdose from 1999 with ​​3,442 overdoses in the US. Throughout the years there have been three waves of opioid overdose increase, the first starting in 1999, the second in 2010, and the third in 2013. There has been no declaration of a fourth wave, however, in 2018 to 2020 the cases have reached a skyrocketing increase that was six times the number in 1999.

In response to this epidemic the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has been focus on providing five main priorities such as, “Improve access to prevention, treatment, and recovery support services, target the availability and distribution of overdose-reversing drugs, strengthen public health data reporting and collection, support cutting-edge research on addiction and pain, and advance the practice of pain management ” Alongside this plan, we as a community should continue to raise awareness regarding this crisis by sharing hotlines, text hotlines, news reports, and using hashtags on your social media posts like #overdose and #drugs in order to prevent the loss of our loved ones and anyone else that could be affected.