Opioid drugs have killed more Americans than the 19-year Vietnam war, the AIDS crisis, car accidents, suicides and homicides, a new report shows.
The analysis by independent research group Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) lays bare the scale of the epidemic by analyzing the latest CDC figures.
It breaks down the death tolls of the most devastating events in US history in the last 50 years, to show why addiction is the most deadly issue the country has ever faced.
While the Vietnam war claimed 58,200 lives in 19 years and six months, opioids killed 64,070 Americans in 2016 alone.
Experts warn last year’s peak was likely just the start, as we start to see the repercussions of decades of over-prescribing painkillers, which drove medication addiction and even a surge in heroin use.
While the Vietnam war claimed 58,200 lives in 19 years and six months, opioids killed 64,070 Americans in 2016 alone, a new report by the Police Executive Research Forum explains
CDC data published in August showed US drug overdose deaths surged 21 percent in just one year, up from 52,404 in 2015, and double the death rate a decade ago. Three quarters of those deaths were from opioids.
It means that for the first time drug overdoses are the leading cause of death for Americans under 50 years old.
Increasingly, the blame is falling on pharmaceutical companies for striking lucrative deals with doctors and healthcare centers which drove over-prescription of these expensive and addictive medicines to all sectors of the society.
Studies started warning of an impending addiction epidemic in the 1980s.
Despite attempts to make abuse-resistant drugs (that are hard to crush) in the 1990s, it became clear in the early 2000s that prescription rates were increasing, and dependence was more commonplace.
In 2013, it was declared an addiction epidemic.
The new PERF report, published today, urges police forces to treat the epidemic as a priority because ‘despite the groundbreaking work that police and other agencies are doing, the epidemic is continuing to worsen.’
Specifically, they found opioid deaths in 2016 outnumbered:
- Car crash deaths in 2015 (35,092)
- The entire course of the Vietnam War (58,200)
- AIDS-related deaths in 1995, the worst year of the epidemic (50,628)
- Homicides in 1991, the peak year thus far (24,703)
- Suicides, which hit an all-time high in 2015 (44,193)
Half of the police chiefs who are members of PERF have seen an increase in heroin overdose deaths, according to a survey by the organization.
Almost half saw an increase in deaths from fentanyl, a synthetic drug which is about 100 times the strength of morphine.
CDC data published in August showed US drug overdose deaths surged 21 percent in just one year, up from 52,404 in 2015, and double the death rate a decade ago. Three quarters of those deaths were from opioids
The authors write: ‘[I]t is clear that police and other criminal justice agencies, along with public health departments, drug treatment and social service providers, elected officials, and others, must step up their efforts to prevent new cases of opioid addiction, while helping addicted persons through the long and difficult process of getting free of opioid drugs.’
In conclusion, the report outlines some areas prosecutors can affect change:
- Regulating unregulated ‘sober homes’ in Florida, where ‘patient brokering’ has led to scores of addicts’ deaths.
- Cracking down on dealers who target patients as they come out of treatment
- Change federal drug sentencing laws so that even a small amount could warrant a sentence (the threshold is four times higher than cocaine)
- Find better ways to investigate and track online drug dealing