Shocking Facts You Need to Know About the Opioid Epidemic

Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash

The United States is in an opioid epidemic. Opioids are among the biggest killers in the country, with over one million people losing their lives from drug overdoses since 1999. Most drug overdoses in 2021 also involved an opioid. It’s clear to see we have a problem on our hands. However, not everyone knows just how serious this issue is. Here are some of the many shocking facts about opioids in the United States you may not have known:

‘More Prescribing, More Deaths’ Might Not Be True

Government officials say that overprescribing in the 1990s caused the opioid crisis we’re trying to combat today. However, many medical experts who have educated themselves through programs like a Master of Public Health online and have other qualifications say that legal restrictions might be more to blame.

Believing that overprescribing was causing addiction, the government stepped in to restrict access. They enacted policies like restricting prescribing and doctor shopping. They even raided pain management facilities they thought were overprescribing.

These heavy restrictions may have led recreational users to seek out illicit opioids. They may have then been at an increased risk of overdose due to poor drug quality and increased potency.

There Have Been Three Waves

The opioid crisis in the United States isn’t just made up of one medication type affecting millions of people across several generations. The first ‘wave’ of overdose deaths was in the 1990s when people were losing their lives to opioid-based medications like Oxycontin and Percocet. At the time, healthcare providers were prescribing them for chronic conditions.

A short while later, a second wave of overdoses was believed to be started with illegal heroin. By the early 2010s, we were in a third wave involving synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. Fentanyl remains a problem even today. New combinations of synthetic opioids are now on the market with deadly ingredients like chemicals from horse tranquilizers called Xylazine. 

Death Numbers Are Skyrocketing

When we have so many support services and healthcare professionals in our communities, it’s easy to assume that we’d have the opioid epidemic under control by now. However, data analysts beg to differ. Synthetic opioid-associated overdoses are the leading cause of death in the United States in people from 18 to 45 years old. Studies have also found that drug overdose-related fatalities reached their highest-recorded level in March 2022, with over 110,000 deaths recorded.

Drugs Are Coming Across the Border

Despite restrictions at a government level, potent opioids are still finding their way into the United States and the wrong hands. Officials say that most fentanyl comes into the country from Mexico. It’s smuggled across the border with pedestrians and in vehicles.

Packages are small and easy to conceal because even just a 2.6-pound package has more than 50,000 lethal doses. China used to be a primary fentanyl source before the authorities banned the production of its variants in 2019. Still, most fentanyl coming from Mexico is made using ingredients imported from China.

We have a highly skilled medical community in the United States, with experts upskilling and learning new things all the time to help care for those in need. However, it may still be a long time until we’ve seen the tail-end of this latest wave in the ongoing opioid epidemic.


Joan David-Leonhard

Joan David Leonhard is a recent Pharm.D graduate with a strong passion for the pharmaceutical industry and a particular interest in pharmaceutical media and communication. Her brief internship experience includes roles in pharmacy where she built strong patient-pharmacist relationships and a pharmaceutical media internship where she actively contributed to drug information articles, blog posts, social media engagement, and various media projects.
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