The opioid epidemic (also called opioid crisis) refers to the rapid increase in the use of prescription and non-prescription opioids in the United States. Opioids are a class of analgesic drugs, including those naturally derived from opium, such as morphine and heroin, and similar synthetic and semi-synthetic druges such as Percocet, Vicodin, OxyContin and fentanyl. According to the DEA, overdose deaths, particularly from prescription drugs and heroin, have reached epidemic levels.
The U.S. Surgeon General has listed some statistics which describe the extent of the problem:
- 78 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.
- In 2014, more than 10 million people in the United States reported using prescription opioids for nonmedical reasons, and close to 2 million people older than 12 years met diagnostic criteria for a substance use disorder involving prescription opioids.
- There has been a quadrupling of prescriptions for opioids since 1999, but there has not been an overall change in the amount of pain that Americans report.
- As many as one in four patients receiving long-term opioid therapy in a primary care setting struggles with addiction.