The American opioid epidemic is everywhere. It’s in every state and touches innumerable bustling cities and small towns across the country. In 2017, opioids were responsible for 47,600 overdose deaths. No one is immune to its effects. Legal and illicit opioid use impacts people from all walks of life, including young adults, entire families, and even unborn children. Opioids encompass a variety of illegal substances (e.g. heroin and opium) and legal, prescription drugs (e.g. OxyContin and morphine) alike. They can claim the lives of those who have been misusing drugs for years or even those filling prescriptions.

What Are Opioids?

Opioids are a class of narcotic substances, both legal and illicit, derived from the opium poppy plant. Synthetic or naturally occurring, opioids can be street drugs or prescription painkillers.

Illegal opioids include:

Prescription opioids include:

Regardless of form, opioids are highly addictive drugs, and their effects should not be taken lightly. If you are concerned about opioid addiction in yourself or someone you know, reach out to The Recovery Village for confidential help.

As opioids are still produced and prescribed at high rates, statements like, “I knew someone who overdosed on oxycodone,” and, “A friend of mine from high school died last week by overdose,” are increasingly common. The epidemic continues to claim lives at unprecedented rates. One family member contacting a treatment center like The Recovery Village on behalf of a loved one can be transformative. One person saying agreeing to treatment doesn’t just change one life forever; it can slowly begin to turn the tide of the American opioid epidemic altogether.

What Is the Opioid Epidemic?

The American opioid crisis has been making headlines for decades, prompting many people to ask, “What exactly is the opioid epidemic?” and, “When did the opioid epidemic start?” The opioid epidemic is a nationwide problem that involves the widespread use of prescription painkillers and subsequent popularity of illegal opioids as well as the consequential overdoses, many of which are fatal.

It began in the late 1990s when pharmaceutical companies started increasing the supply of prescription painkillers, which they claimed would relieve pain without becoming addictive. As a result, doctors began prescribing them more frequently, causing sales to skyrocket. The number of prescription opioids sold to pharmacies, hospitals and doctors’ offices nearly quadrupled from 1999 to 2010. Medical professionals eventually discovered the addictive nature of these medications, but not before thousands of individuals started abusing and overdosing on them.

Today, the opioid epidemic causes concern not just for those with prescription painkillers, but for their children and other loved ones as well. Within a decade, opioid poisonings have nearly doubled among children, according to a new study in JAMA Pediatrics.

Opioid Epidemic Statistics

The opioid epidemic has claimed the lives of thousands since the late 1990s, while also negatively impacting the economy. The issue grows more severe every year, as detailed by the following opioid crisis statistics (opioid epidemic facts):

  • In 2017, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription opioids and illegal opioids like heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl) was 6 times higher than in 1999
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), opioids are responsible for 6 out of 10 overdose deaths in the United States
  • 130 Americans die every day from opioid overdose
  • Women are more likely to have chronic pain, be prescribed prescription pain relievers, be given higher doses and use them for longer time periods than men. Women may also become dependent on prescription pain relievers more quickly than men.

Opioid Epidemic in the United States

The opioid crisis in America has affected men, women, and children for decades. Nationally, there are about 10.4 opioid overdose deaths per every 100,000 U.S. citizens. This epidemic affects Americans as a whole, but drug usage and overdose deaths vary by state. Some states have a higher concentration of illegal opioids like heroin, while others have an overabundance of prescription opioids like Vicodin and hydrocodone.

Rural America is especially at risk for opioid problems. According to the CDC, death rates for unintentional injuries like drug overdoses are about 50 percent higher in rural areas than in urban areas. Rural regions, compared to urban areas, have lower populations and more space between houses. In some rustic communities, residents also have limited access to health care.

While certain states and communities may experience a higher overdose rate than others, the opioid epidemic as a whole affects the entire country, and it continues to evolve every year. The good news is there are various ways to prevent overdose and treat opioid abuse and addiction, both in rural America and beyond.

Opioid Epidemic by State

According to the CDC, the five states with the highest rates of death due to drug overdose from 2014 to 2015 were:

  • West Virginia, 41.5 per 100,000
  • New Hampshire, 34.3 per 100,000
  • Kentucky 29.9 per 100,000
  • Ohio, 29.9 per 100,000
  • Rhode Island, 28.2 per 100,000

Opioid Crisis by State

The following states saw a statistically significant increase in the drug overdose death rate from 2014 to 2015:

StatePercent Increase
New Hampshire30.9
New Jersey16.4
New York20.4
North Carolina14.5
Rhode Island20.5
West Virginia16.9
*Source: Centers for Disease Control & Prevention: Drug Overdose Death Data

While the statistics are shocking, help is on the horizon. If you (or a loved one) is in need of drug or alcohol rehabilitation, The Recovery Village has locations across the country to provide you with individualized and effective treatment. The more people who seek rehab care, the closer we’ll be to ending the opioid epidemic.

How to Get Help for Opioid Addiction

If you or someone you know is using opioids, legally or otherwise, it can be all too easy for addiction to develop. The longer you take opioids, the higher your body’s tolerance grows, meaning you can end up taking more of the substance to achieve the same effect. This increases your risk of fatal overdose exponentially. Even if you’re taking opioid medication under a doctor’s supervision, you can quickly become addicted. But no matter your situation, there are ways to get help for opioid addiction:

  • Call a free 24-hour hotline. In a life-threatening situation, always dial 911 before reaching out to any hotline. If your condition is stable, The Recovery Village’s confidential opiate hotline is a great resource if you feel overwhelmed or unsure about your drug use, anxious about your medication, or feel you need help overcoming addiction. Other free hotlines include the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) and the National Poison Control Center (800-222-1222). You can also text the Crisis Text Line at 741741 anytime to be instantly connected to a trained crisis counselor.
  • Be open and honest with your doctor. If you’re taking an opioid medication that you feel you’ve become dependent on, you may feel apprehensive asking for a higher dosage. These feelings are warning signs — chances are, you don’t need a larger dose of the medication you’re taking, and your body has grown accustomed to the substance. Risking addiction is not worth it, and the temporary relief opioids provide often comes at a high cost. Instead of asking for more pills, talk with your doctor or pharmacist about how your medication is making you feel, mentally and physically. They will most likely be able to recommend a non-opiate alternative or even holistic options for you.
  • Know your options for treatment. Many people struggling with opioid addiction need rehabilitative care to fully overcome it. Treatment can take many forms, from medical detox to inpatient and outpatient care. The kind of program you need depends on the length and intensity of your substance use disorder and can be determined by an intake coordinator or another medical professional. Search by state to find local clinics or drug rehab centers near you. Or, call The Recovery Village anytime to speak with someone who can help.

Opioid Overdose

As with many other drugs, misusing and abusing an opioid (taking a larger amount than the body can process) may result in an overdose. An overdose can occur with an illicit opioid like morphine or heroin, or with a prescription opioid. It can also occur accidentally, such as when someone without a prescription takes it. To prevent an accidental prescription opioid overdose, always take medication as prescribed and keep it in a safe place, where no child or any other person can come in contact with it. A drug overdose is a medical emergency, as it can be life-threatening.

An opioid overdose can be detected by a number of signs and symptoms. Call 911 immediately if you notice any of these signs:

  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Slowed or suspended breathing
  • Unconsciousness or unresponsiveness
  • Slowed or stopped heart rate
  • Clammy or pale skin
  • Vomiting
  • Limp body
  • Purple- or blue-colored fingernails or lips

Of the major opioid overdose symptoms, respiratory depression is one of the most dangerous, as it can result in insufficient blood oxygenation (hypoxia). This can cause permanent brain damage or even death.

In Case of Overdose: Good Samaritan Laws Save Lives

Those who witness a drug overdose may hesitate to dial 911 for fear of being searched, arrested or incarcerated by the police. Because of this, countless overdose deaths occur needlessly. To provide immunity for those who call and to save more lives, Good Samaritan laws are accepted all over the country. As of July 15, 2017, forty states and the District of Columbia have passed Good Samaritan laws that protect individuals who report an overdose in good faith from arrest or prosecution. No one should be afraid to dial 911 to save a life, and these laws are making that possible.

There are hundreds of treatment options all over the country to help anyone struggling with opioid abuse and addiction. With the right kind of treatment, opioid overdoses can be prevented.

Opioid Overdose Treatment

If you suspect that someone has overdosed on an opioid, it’s critical that you take action immediately to save their life. Although an overdose is typically best treated by a medical professional, there are steps you can take before help arrives. Of course, the first thing to do is to call 911. If the person has stopped breathing, and you have been trained to perform CPR, begin performing it while you await an ambulance. Administering naloxone is another immediate treatment option.

Naloxone is a medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat opioid overdose. It works by blocking opioid receptor sites, which reverses the toxic effects of the overdose. Naloxone can be administered as a nasal spray (Narcan), into the muscle, under the skin or via intravenous injection. In some cases, it may need to be administered more than once.

Although once available only by prescription, this medication is now available over the counter in hundreds of pharmacies throughout the country. This antidote can save a life, but it should not be seen as a replacement for professional medical treatment. If you or someone you know has an opioid medication, consider purchasing a naloxone kit so you can be prepared in the event of an overdose.

Did you know an opioid overdose can be treated without a prescription?

With non-prescription naloxone medication, such as Narcan Nasal Spray, you can treat an opioid overdose as you await professional medical help. Narcan is available in most states. Using your zip code, you can find a pharmacy near you that offers it.

Ending the Opioid Epidemic Can Start With You

If you are addicted to an opioid (legal or otherwise) or know a loved one in need of rehab care, The Recovery Village can help. By providing individualized care, The Recovery Village is determined to see the end of the opioid epidemic in America. This renowned collection of facilities has locations across the country. Calls are free and confidential, and there is no obligation to commit to treatment. Call  877.875.0773 today to learn about personalized programs and care plans near you.

a man with a beard wearing glasses and a hoodie.
Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more
Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.