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A Look at the Opioid Epidemic Over the Past Two Decades

Photo by Michael Longmire on Unsplash

The opioid epidemic in the United States has been an ongoing battle that has lasted decades. Unfortunately, even with all the buzz surrounding the crisis, the measures taken have not been enough to defeat the opioid epidemic in the United States. Over the past two decades, the epidemic has consisted of three major waves that have shaped it into the threatening crisis that it is today.

The first wave of the opioid epidemic came from an unexpected place, doctors offices. Throughout the 1990s, overprescribing of opioids started to become more and more frequent. According to the Mayo Clinic, from 1990 to 1995 prescriptions for opioids increased by 2 million to 3 million each year. The increase in prescriptions led to the downward spiral and contributed in fueling the following two decades of suffering that were to come. 

A little over a decade after the initial spike in prescriptions, the second wave of the opioid epidemic hit the United States. Originating in vulnerable communities, heroin took over the streets and was getting in the hands of many people. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the number of people using heroin increased by over 30% from 2002 to 2010. Due to the significant increase in heroin use, 2010 marked the beginning of a spike in heroin overdose that has yet to stop increasing in the United States. 

Shortly after the spike in heroin overdoses in the United States, the third wave of the opioid epidemic hit communities and resulted in the rise of synthetic opioid abuse. Since the first jump in synthetic opioid abuse in 2013, deaths related to synthetic opioids have quintupled in just 5 years and over lives have been lost. 

Together, these three waves have led to over 450,000 deaths over the past two decades. It is fundamental to understand the current state of the crisis in America. One would think that since discovering the tremendous consequences to society that the epidemic has brought preventive measures would have been much more successful in decreasing the number of yearly fatalities. However, quite the contrary has taken place in the United States. The number of opioid overdoses has exponentially increased over time and according to a study conducted by the CDC, over the last 20 years the number of opioid overdoses has more than tripled. The opioid epidemic has steadily gotten worse for years and Americans can only hope that new technologies and legislation will help stop the growing crisis.






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