- REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Drug overdoses now kill about as many Americans per year as AIDS did in the late 80s and early 90s.
As Julia Luria explains in a September 19 article for Mother Jones, that’s largely a result of the the spike in opioid addiction in the United States.
Opioids include illegal drugs like heroin, but also commonly-prescribed painkillers like Vicodin and Oxytocin.
Prescriptions for opioids have climbed from 76 million in 1991 to just under 259 million in 2012, as Luria reports.
That increase has tracked closely with the spike in overdose deaths. (Heroin overdoses have also increased in the same time period, likely because prescription-driven opioid addiction has driven people to illegal drugs.)
Luria recently tweet a chart showing how dramatic the shift has been:
— Julia Lurie (@julia_lurie) September 19, 2016
That’s a shocking and significant change in the way Americans die.
It’s worth noting that opioids have been a significant public health problem, particularly in poor communities of color, for a long time. But, as with the crack epidemic in the ’80s, the government’s response has often been to punish addicted people rather than treat them.
However, the prescription epidemic has made opiates a problem visible to white, suburban America in a way it never was previously, with the first decline in white American adult longevity in decades. And now we’re seeing it treated as a public health crisis.