For the first time in U.S. history, the risk of dying from an opioid overdose is greater than that of being killed in a traffic accident. Opioids also exceed slip and fall incidents, drowning, and fire as causes of unintentional deaths. Furthermore, only 13 states (including the District of Columbia) are making any progress in dealing with the crisis. This information comes from an analysis of mortality figures from 2017, conducted by the National Safety Council (NSC).
The epidemic has hit children and young people especially hard, according to a study published last month in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers found that almost 9,000 children and adolescents died from opioid-related causes between January 1999 and December 2016.
Over the nine-year period from 2004 to 2015, hospital admissions due to opioid overdoses almost doubled among pediatric patients. Across the board, however, 2017 has been the deadliest year on record for overdose fatalities, with the number exceeding 70,000 (two-thirds related to opioids).
Most of these fatalities have been due to fentanyl, an exceptionally powerful synthetic opioid – most of which was illicitly manufactured and smuggled into the U.S. from China. A recent article in The Economist reports that large amounts of fentanyl are entering the U.S. from China, despite efforts by government and police in both countries to stop the trade.
Last month, Chinese President Xi Jinping said his government would “close loopholes” that were enabling unlicensed purveyors of fentanyl to distribute their product through “legitimate” markets. However, this could prove difficult. Fentanyl is 30-50 times stronger than heroin and easily smuggled. Furthermore, there is a powerful economic incentive: $5000 worth of fentanyl from China could fetch up to $1.5 million in the U.S., according to estimates from the Department of Justice.
Authors of the report published in Pediatrics wrote, “What began more than 2 decades ago as a public health problem primarily among young and middle-aged white males is now an epidemic of prescription and illicit opioid abuse that is taking a toll on all segments of US society.”
Elaborating on this issue in an email to CNN, Maureen Vogel, Senior Public Relations Manager at the NSC, highlighted the state of denial that exists among many Americans: “Too many people still believe the opioid crisis is abstract and will not impact them. Many still do not see it as a major threat to them or their family...these data show the gravity of the crisis.”
Tragically, most of the U.S. is falling behind when it comes to addressing the opioid crisis. Seven states – Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming – are failing to deal with it altogether. States that are succeeding in addressing the opioid epidemic include Arizona, Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. However, the remaining three-fifths of states are “lagging,” according to the NSC report.