Mass-casualty incidents like the recent shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival that left 59 people dead make headlines around the world. Yet there’s something far more deadly that harder to contextualize. The opioid epidemic is killing Americans at an epic pace, and it continues to get worse. Just how bad is it? A few comparisons may provide some perspective.
Opioids now kill more Americans per year than the whole 19 years of the Vietnam war combined. More than AIDS. More Americans die of overdoses now than they do in car crashes.
The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) has made the new comparisons based on the latest CDC reports.
During the Vietnam war, over more than 19 years, 58,200 died. In 2016, just one year, more than 64,070 Americans died from opioid abuse.
The root of this problem is the topic of intense debate. Many point the finger at a medical industry that over-prescribed opioid painkillers to patients. When those prescriptions ran dry, some of these people were addicted and turned to drugs like heroin and meth to curb their addictions.
The CDC data, published this August, indicates a 21 percent jump in deaths from opioid use. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death in American under 50.
The Daily Mail broke down the numbers like this:
Car crash deaths in 2015 (35,092)
The entire course of the Vietnam War (58,200)
AIDS-related deaths in 1995, the worst year of the epidemic (50,628)
Homicides in 1991, the peak year thus far (24,703)
Suicides, which hit an all-time high in 2015 (44,193)
Fentanyl, a synthetic drug which is that’s 100 times stronger than morphine, is one of the leading causes of the overdoses.
“[I]t is clear that police and other criminal justice agencies,” the PERF report concludes “along with public health departments, drug treatment and social service providers, elected officials, and others, must step up their efforts to prevent new cases of opioid addiction, while helping addicted persons through the long and difficult process of getting free of opioid drugs.”