Opioid Crisis Killing More People Than Breast Cancer

The opioid crisis is largely a result of greedy, profit-driven pharmaceutical corporations such as Purdue Pharma mass producing highly addictive opioids and then flooding economically weak (and thus despairing) communities with them. The problem must be attacked at the root — significantly alter the function of the pharmaceutical industry and fix much of the economic weakness that it thrives on. If neither of those solutions are applied, the problem will keep becoming worse, with all the innocent lives lost that go with it.

More than 63,600 lives were lost to drug overdose in 2016, the most lethal year yet of the drug overdose epidemic, according to a new report from the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most of those deaths involved opioids, a family of painkillers including illicit heroin and fentanyl as well as legally prescribed medications such as oxycodone and hydrocodone. In 2016 alone, 42,249 US drug fatalities — 66% of the total — involved opioids, the report says. That’s over a thousand more than the 41,070 Americans who die from breast cancer every year.

Much of the increase was driven by the rise in illicit synthetic opioids like fentanyl and tramadol. The rate of deadly overdoses from synthetic opioids other than methadone has skyrocketed an average of 88% each year since 2013; it more than doubled in 2016 to 19,413, from 9,580 in 2015.

Heroin also continues to be a problem, the report says. Since 2014, the rate of heroin overdose deaths has jumped an average of 19% each year.

The opioid crisis has raised significant awareness of prescription painkillers. Between 1999 and 2009, the rate of overdoses from such drugs rose 13% annually, but the increase has since slowed to 3% per year.

In 2009, prescription narcotics were involved in 26% of all fatal drug overdoses, while heroin was involved in 9% and synthetics were involved in just 8%. By comparison, in 2016, prescription drugs were involved in 23% of all deadly overdoses. But heroin is now implicated in about a quarter of all drug fatalities, and synthetic opioids play a role in nearly a third.

These increases have contributed to a shortening of the US life expectancy for a second year in a row.

The states with the highest rates of overdose in 2016 were West Virginia, Ohio and New Hampshire, the report said. The rate of overdose in West Virginia was over 2.5 times the national average of 19.8 overdose deaths for every 100,000 people.

While the outlook nationwide is fairly bleak, it’s particularly bad in some states. Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia had overdose rates significantly higher than the national average.

While overdose rates increased in all age groups, rises were most significant in those between the ages of 25 and 54.

Provisional data for 2017 from the CDC show no signs of the epidemic abating, with an estimate of more than 66,000 overdose deaths for the year. “Based on what we’re seeing, it doesn’t look like it’s getting any better,” said Bob Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch at the National Center for Health Statistics.

[…]

According to the 2016 Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health, 30% of Americans do not seek any sort of addiction treatment because they do not have insurance and cannot afford treatment.

The opioid epidemic is of course worst in West Virginia because of how economically ravaged the state has been by decades of neoliberalism, the increase in deaths being worst among those 25 to 54 notably follows the ages that are regularly considered to be those of prime age workers, and the lack of a national single-payer healthcare system shows itself as a flaw yet again.
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A Week’s Local Reporting in the Opioid Crisis

A week’s focus of reporting on the opioid epidemic from Cincinatti, Ohio.

The Enquirer sent more than 60 reporters, photographers and videographers into their communities to chronicle an ordinary week in this extraordinary time.

It’s a little after sunrise on the first day of another week, and Cincinnati is waking up again with a heroin problem. So is Covington. And Middletown. And Norwood. And Hamilton. And West Chester Township. And countless other cities and towns across Ohio and Kentucky.

This particular week, July 10 through 16, will turn out to be unexceptional by the dreary standards of what has become the region’s greatest health crisis.

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This is normal now, a week like any other. But a terrible week is no less terrible because it is typical. When heroin and synthetic opiates kill one American every 16 minutes, there is little comfort in the routine.

[…]

Ali walks along McMicken Avenue in Over-the-Rhine, looking for someone willing to pay her for sex.

It’s what she does to get money to buy fentanyl, and to keep a roof over her head. She’s 25 and addicted to the synthetic opiate. She used to take heroin, but now she prefers the more powerful and more dangerous synthetic.

She’s having trouble finding someone to pick her up on this steamy afternoon.

Ali already has changed her dress today. She’s wearing a metallic-studded, purple mini dress. She knows that sometimes her customers want someone pretty. Other times, it doesn’t seem to matter.

Tall and fine-boned, Ali could be a model. But she is emaciated. She has bruises on her neck from shooting up.

She runs a hand through her long, thick hair, grasps it and lifts it from her shoulders before letting it fall back down. Then she does it again. She’s getting anxious. Withdrawal symptoms are starting to set in and Ali thinks she might vomit on the sidewalk if she doesn’t get a fix.

Ali darts across the street, vanishes for a few minutes and returns with her drug in hand. She hides behind a couple of trash cans and uses it.

About 15 minutes later, she’s back, feeling better, walking the street in the hot summer sun.

[…]

Kim Hill searches through the boxes filled with her son’s belongings, unsure what she’s looking for. There’s a box for Tommy’s clothes, sneakers and hats. There’s a box for his cologne.

She can smell him on the clothes he’ll never wear again, and on the green comforter from the bed he’ll never return home to sleep in.

Kim decides to take the comforter home with her.

She will hold it close tonight, in her own bed, while she tries again to sleep. And she will think, “This is what is left of my child.”

[…]

It’s almost midnight on the last day of another week, and the heroin epidemic has done its damage.

18: Deaths known or suspected to be the result of overdoses.

180: Overdoses reported to hospitals in the region. This figure underestimates the actual number of overdoses because it only includes those requiring hospital treatment.

210: Inmates in the Hamilton County Justice Center, the region’s largest jail, who admitted to using heroin or other opioids. Jail officials have estimated that as many as half of all inmates, about 870 this week, have an opioid problem.

$95,550: Cost to taxpayers to house those 210 inmates for one week. If the inmate total is closer to the estimated 870, the cost would be $395,850.

15: Babies born with health problems because their mothers used heroin or other opioids.

34: Investigations opened in southwest Ohio into the well-being of a child whose parent or guardian was known or suspected of using heroin or other opioids.

102 hours, 42 minutes: Time it took first responders to tend to overdose patients. This figure is considered low by dispatch supervisors because many overdose runs are not initially called in as such.