Fatal Heroin Overdoses Have Risen Fivefold Since 2002
Fatal heroin overdoses have risen fivefold from 2002 to 2016, according to a new government report. Last year, an estimated 13,219 Americans died of a heroin overdose.
In 2015, more than 12 million Americans reported misusing a prescription opioid in the past year.
New data just released from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that 91 people die every day from an opioid overdose – a marked increase from 78 in 2014. Hospitalizations related to opioid misuse also have increased dramatically, with new data now showing the rate of adult hospital inpatient stays per 100,000 population nearly doubling between 2000 and 2012. If it weren’t for the life-saving opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone, the tragic loss of life in our communities would be even greater.
While naloxone has saved tens of thousands of lives, what is often missed in media coverage of the opioid epidemic – and in many of the policy recommendations designed to address it – is the need to attack this problem more cost effectively and humanely, much further upstream, at a point when physicians, together with family members and communities, can prevent addiction and overdose from taking hold.
In particular, physicians must play a key role all along the continuum from prevention to intervention and referral to treatment. Above all, we must address substance use disorders as health problems rather than social or moral issues. We need to help identify at-risk patients via regular, validated screening, conduct brief interventions and refer patients to evidence-based treatment. And we need to do a much better job talking to our patients about the risks of opioid analgesics, including avoiding alcohol, side effects, safe storage and disposal, risks of addiction or dependence, non-opioid pain management, and a plan for discontinuing opioids if they are called for in some cases.
In addition, physicians should:
As alarming and tragic as news of the opioid epidemic has been, much progress is being made. In 2015, we saw a 40 percent increase compared to the previous year in consultation of state PDMPs – and since 2012 there has been an 11 percent drop in opioid prescriptions.
And it’s not just physicians who can turn the tide. As parents, sons, daughters, friends – are we ready? When children ask tough questions – and they will – do you know what to do? When we see our mothers or fathers in need of help, do you know how to help? Do you know where to get help?
All of us – health care professionals, parents, educators, community leaders, law enforcement and policy makers – have a role to play in reversing the nation’s opioid epidemic and saving lives. The American Medical Association and the Partnership together are committed to ensuring that physicians and families have the education and resources they need. We urge you to join us in our efforts to reverse this national epidemic.