One in every five deaths of young adults in the United States is attributable to opioid use, and one of every 65 deaths overall in the U.S. can be traced to the powerful narcotic painkillers, reports the Journal of the American Medical Association via St. Michael’s Hospital.
Researchers at the Toronto hospital led a study, in conjunction with the American medical journal, to look at the impact of opioid abuse in the United States, and their findings were startling.
Between 2001 and 2016, the number of deaths attributable to opioid use climbed 292 percent. What’s more, the study found that the drug epidemic affects the different sexes and different age groups, and vastly differing rates. For example, men account for 70 percent of opioid-related deaths, and young men, aged 24- to 35-years-old, are the worst-off.
Dr. Tara Gomes, a scientist with the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael’s, says that her research proves that the impact of the opioid crisis is devastating.
“Despite the amount of attention that has been placed on this public health issue, we are increasingly seeing the devastating impact that early loss of life from opioids is having across the United States.”
And while Dr. Gomes’ research focuses only on the U.S., she’s quick to point out that opioid dependence is a Canadian problem as well.
“We know this is not an isolated public health issue – it is one that spans across North America.”
So what has caused the opioid epidemic in the U.S.? That largely depends on whom you ask.
According to Law and Liberty, the prevailing notion, at least among many American policy-makers, is that the problem stems from doctors over-prescribing the powerful painkillers. Therefore, the solution to the problem lies in limiting access to opioids – for example, by jailing users and otherwise continuing to carry out the War on Drugs.
However, The Cato Institute posits that the War on Drugs has actually caused the opioid epidemic – or at least, is making it worse. That’s because limited access to the drugs the users crave pushes them to seek out illegal means of getting them.
“Users overdose not from medical use but from consuming diverted or black market opioids of unpredictable quality and potency.”
Similarly, forcing abstinence on opioid addicts – by imprisoning them – merely leads to them losing their tolerance for the drugs. That means that when they’re released and once again have access to black-market painkillers, the doses that they took before going to prison can be lethal.
Dr. Gomes posits that without an approach to the problem that combines education, harm reduction, and better access to treatment, the problem will impact America “for generations.”