Drug Epidemic Becomes Leading Cause of Death Now in US

The current drug problem in the United States is a serious public health crisis that is fueled by fentanyl. Fentanyl is a man-made painkiller that was first created to help cancer patients manage pain during chemotherapy. It is much stronger than morphine, being 50 to 100 times more potent. “Fentanyl is the most dangerous drug our country has ever faced,” said Anne Milgram, a spokesperson for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

The number of deaths supports her statement. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that over 107,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2021. That’s about one overdose every five minutes. In 2021, the number of deaths caused by fentanyl and other synthetic opioids (excluding methadone) increased by 23% to an estimated 71,000 deaths in individuals aged 18 and older, as reported by the CDC.

Certain communities have been hit hard, especially in Alaska where there has been a 75% increase in drug overdose deaths in 2021. Public health professionals are working hard to understand and stop the drug epidemic in the U.S. This includes studying the increasing use of lethal fentanyl and the dangerous practice of combining opiates and methamphetamines.

Leading Cause of Death for 18- to 45-Year-Olds

The CDC has collected data that helps us understand the risk of fentanyl to people between the ages of 18 and 45, although it is challenging to determine the exact number of fentanyl deaths in different age groups.

According to PolitiFact, in 2021, the main cause of death among people aged 18 to 45 was “accidents” or unintentional injuries, which includes drug overdoses. It is estimated that about 90% of unintentional injuries related to synthetic opioids (excluding methadone) are caused by fentanyl. This means that drug overdoses involving fentanyl could be one of the main causes of death for people in this age group in 2021. This estimate suggests that fentanyl-related deaths among 18- to 45-year-olds could surpass deaths in this age group caused by:

  • Suicide
  • Firearms
  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Complications due to coronavirus (COVID-19)

Also read: 2024 Study Excludes Top US Cities With The Worst Drug Problems

The Root Causes of the Opioid Epidemic

In the 1980s, doctors started to pay more attention to helping patients manage their pain. Until the 1980s, doctors mostly prescribed opioids for a short period of time to patients who were particularly vulnerable, like those with advanced cancer or those who had recently had surgery.

Companies like Purdue Pharma started advertising their extended-release opioids as treatments for long-lasting pain. Purdue Pharma promoted their prescription drug, OxyContin, as safe, effective, and with a low risk of addiction in their advertisements and lobbying efforts. In 2007, the company admitted that it knew OxyContin was addictive and paid $635 million. Now, in 2022, it has been ordered to pay an additional $6 billion for its role in causing the opioid epidemic.

The War on Drugs campaign, which focused on certain races and classes of people when discussing drug misuse, created an environment that contributed to the opioid epidemic. Purdue Pharma targeted white suburban and rural communities with their products. These communities were not typically portrayed in the media or by the government as being affected by addiction and drug use, unlike people of color.

Currently, the rules for prescribing drugs are more strict. However, international drug cartels still contribute to the drug crisis by supplying inexpensive heroin and synthetic opioids. One such opioid is fentanyl, which is much cheaper to make than other opioids and is significantly more potent than morphine, as stated by the DEA.

Cities Facing Pervasive Drug Use

In 2022, American Addiction Centers conducted a survey in 51 cities across the United States. The goal was to learn about the impact of addiction on the people living in these large cities. The survey did not specifically examine fentanyl, but it did provide information on the usage rates of various other addictive drugs. These drugs are often used in combination with fentanyl and can be harmful on their own.

The top five cities with the highest heroin use in 2022 were:

  • Omaha, Nebraska, where 3.4% of the population has used heroin
  • Indianapolis, Indiana, where 3.4% of the population has used heroin
  • Columbus, Ohio, where 3.3% of the population has used heroin
  • Nashville, Tennessee, where 3.2% of the population has used heroin
  • Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, where 3.1% of the population has used heroin

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