Health professionals and others have long said the US government should be more aggressive in combating the opioid epidemic, but few of them are willing to commit to full legalization of the drug.
What is the opioid crisis?
The opioid crisis has hit the United States hard.
In October, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) released its first nationwide estimate of the number of Americans who died from opioid overdoses.
A total of 18.6 million people were affected.
The number of overdose deaths in the US jumped from 17,766 in 2015 to 22,074 in 2017.
Experts say the crisis is a sign that Americans are waking up to the dangers of the opioid addiction and are willing, if necessary, to take the medicine they need.
But some experts say it is premature to jump to conclusions about the epidemic’s causes and effects.
“I think we need to be careful about making predictions based on numbers, because we can’t be certain,” said David M. Fidanque, a professor at Boston University School of Public Health.
“We are still dealing with the effects of a very serious opioid problem, which we’ve been battling for a very long time,” Fidanquesaid.
“There are a lot of people who are dying because they have not been able to get treatment for a long time, or have been too embarrassed to seek treatment.”
Fidanque said the epidemic is not an entirely new problem for the US.
“The last decade or so has seen a rapid increase in the use of prescription opioids,” he said.
“It’s been quite a slow process.
There has been a lot going on in terms of increased access to opioids and other illicit drugs, which have made people more susceptible to using the drug.”
For example, a recent report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that nearly one in four adults in the United Kingdom had used an illicit drug at some point in their lives.
The number of people addicted to opioids is still growing.
The CDC reported that the number is up by nearly 200,000 per year.
In 2015, the US was the most populous country in the world with more than one in five Americans using opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“This is a problem that we haven’t been able, in part, to solve because we’ve not been taking steps to curb the opioid abuse and misuse in this country,” Fadinque said.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the opioid deaths rate in 2017 was 10.1 per 100,000 people.
By 2020, the rate was 8.1.
In 2017, the number who died of an opioid-related overdose was 13.2 million, according the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
In the first five months of 2018, the total number of deaths due to the opioid was nearly 8 million, the HHS report said.
In a new report released by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the federal agency said the number in 2018 was 7,958,600, a 23.6 percent increase from the same period in 2017, when the number was 5,847,600.
That is an increase of more than 9 million people, according NIH.
The report found the number among young adults in their 20s and 30s increased by a record number of more 1,400,000, or 26.3 percent.
According the report, the epidemic among black Americans was also on the rise.
In 2018, black Americans ages 25 to 34 accounted for about 15 percent of all opioid overdose deaths.
By contrast, whites accounted for less than 5 percent of deaths.
Black Americans made up nearly 25 percent of opioid overdose fatalities, and Hispanics were nearly 22 percent.
The racial disparities were especially pronounced among white people, the report said, with Latinos accounting for about 11 percent of the total overdose deaths, and African Americans accounting for less over half of the overall opioid deaths.
Dr. David Shulman, a doctor and professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, said it is important to acknowledge that there is no single cause of the epidemic.
Shulman said while the US is facing a huge opioid crisis, there are other causes.
“For some people, for example, opioid use is associated with higher risk for various chronic illnesses, and the same is true for a lot more chronic diseases,” he explained.
“And in the cases where opioids are used for chronic conditions, the use can be a proxy for a person’s vulnerability to having other health problems.”
He said it also makes sense that the United Nations is focusing on reducing the death toll of opioids, and that countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America are moving towards a more humane and less punitive approach to opioid use.
“When you are talking about the opioid problem globally, you can say that the opioid is a global health problem,” he added.
“But the reality is, that is not the case