Solving the U.S. Opioid Crisis in 2018

Munr Kazmir
4 min readOct 31, 2018

Before it spreads around the world.

Timeline graph of overdose deaths involving opioids, United States. Deaths per 100,000 population. Chart from Opioid Data Analysis and Resources. Drug Overdose. CDC Injury Center.

Why are so many people in the U.S. suddenly suffering from opioid addiction?

After an extremely sharp increase in the number of people struggling with- and dying from- opioid addiction over the past few years, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared the burgeoning crisis a public health emergency in 2017.

What caused this crisis?

Starting in the late 1990s, drug manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies reassured the medical community that opioid pain relievers, which were highly effective at treating post-surgury pain and major injuries, were not a risk for long-term addiction. They were wrong.

Doctors and healthcare providers, beliving opioids safe, effective and non-addictive, began prescribing these drugs more and more frequently. This increase led to widespread misuse of prescription opioid medications. As the widespread addiction grew, and prescriptions became harder and harder to obtain, non-prescription opioid use increased exponentially as well.

  • 21%-29% of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them
  • 8%-12% develop an opioid use disorder
  • 4%-6% who misuse prescription opioids move to heroin
  • 80% of people addicted to heroin started with prescription opioids

In 2018, it is estimated that 2 million Americans will suffer from opioid addiction. Families, communities and companies accros the nation are reeling from the devastating impact. For many, these addictions will cost their lives.

(graphic provided by the Department of Health and Human Serives)

In addition to the terrible human costs of lives lost and families devastated, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the total “economic burden” of prescription opioid abuse alone in the U.S. is a staggering $78.5 billion a year, encompassing the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice.

The Many Faces of Opioid Addiction

With the U.S. facing a drug crisis of unprecedented proportions, heartbreaking stories of addiction and it’s terrible aftermath pour in daily from every part of the country.

  • Opioid overdoses increased 30% from July 2016 through September 2017 in 52 areas across 45 states; Midwestern states, saw a 70% increase.
  • Opioid overdoses in large cities increased by 54% in 16 states.
Madelyn Ellen Linsenmeir, who lost her life to an opioid overdose in 2018

Though the opioid crisis has been particularly hard on males, roughly twice as many men died from opioid overdoses in 2016 compared to overdose rates for women, a young mother’s death on October 7, 2018 is a stark reminder that anyone can come under the pernicious influence of opioid addiction.

“Our beloved Madelyn Ellen Linsenmeir died on Sunday, October 7.” Her bereaved sister wrote in a moving obituary that went viral and touched millions. “While her death was unexpected, Madelyn suffered from drug addiction, and for years we feared her addiction would claim her life. We are grateful that when she died, she was safe and she was with her family.”

Madelyn Ellen Linsenmeir was only 30-years old.

A Light at the End of the Tunnel

In 2017, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services unveiled their detailed plan to address the growing epidemic.

“At HHS, we’re ready to fight alongside … the millions of Americans who are trying to find recovery or help their loved ones do so … The Trump Administration is committed to bringing everything the federal government has to bear on this health emergency.” -Former HHS Secretary Thomas E. Price, M.D., National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit, 4/19/17

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 5-Point Strategy to Combat the Opioid Crisis:

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

More recently, in June 2018, the House passed a package of 58 bills drafted to confront the opioid crisis. This was a historically significant effort by Congress to address a single drug crisis.

The House Ways and Means Committee has been actively pushing bipartisan legislation to solve the crisis; successfully passing 70 bills in the past two weeks designed to disrupt the supply chain of fentanyl, promote the education of doctors and patients on the negative effects of opioids, expand access to non-opioid alternatives, and combat abuse of opioids in hospitals and communities.

Justice Department Announces Another $70 Million to Combat Opioid Crisis on October. 25, 2018

$35 million to battle the distribution of methamphetamine and $35 million to help children impacted by opioid addiction.

“Ending the opioid crisis is a top priority for this administration, and under the leadership of President Trump, the Department of Justice has taken historic action. We have already seen a nearly 20 percent decline in opioid prescription rates nationwide in 2017 and 2018, and we are cutting opioid production by an average of 10 percent for next year. Preliminary data also show that after years of large and sustained increases, overdose deaths may have finally started to decrease. Today, we are announcing millions in grants intended to help the most vulnerable victims of the opioid crisis: children. The Department is investing almost $35 million to assist youth victims of this crisis through enhancing community programs, supporting partnerships with victim service providers, and establishing mentoring programs. We are also announcing another $35 million for state law enforcement in states with high levels of heroin and methamphetamine abuse. These measures take us one step closer to bringing this crisis to an end.” - Attorney General Sessions

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)