The opioid addiction and overdose epidemic has claimed more American lives in the 21st century than did World Wars I and II combined. In addition to this terrible loss of life, millions of Americans are addicted to opioids, damaging their health, their families, and their communities. SNAP’s opioid epidemic initiative is disseminating evidence-informed policies that promote safer opioid prescribing, better health care, and stronger recovery support for addicted individuals.
Background on the Opioid Epidemic
Scope of the Problem:
Beginning in the late 1990s, aggressive promotion by opioid manufacturers caused U.S. prescribing to nearly quadruple, addicting millions of Americans. The only other nation to increase opioid prescribing this much is Canada, which is also experiencing an epidemic of opioid addiction and overdose.
More recently, a class of extremely potent, synthetic opioids known as fentanyls have infiltrated the illicit opioid supply (e.g., heroin) in multiple regions of the U.S. and Canada, accelerating opioid-related deaths even further. Fentanyls are also increasingly present in non-opioid drugs (e.g., cocaine).
The U.S. has reduced opioid prescribing over the past decade, but still has a higher per capita rate than any other nation.
Licit and illicit opioids cause nearly 200 fatal overdoses in the U.S. per day.
The epidemic of opioid addiction and overdose has damaged public health in the U.S. more than the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and is estimated to cost the nation $500 billion per year.
Challenges in Policy and Practice:
Blanket anti-opioid policies deprive patients who need opioids of their medication, causing further suffering.
Incarcerating opioid addicted individuals causes them to lose tolerance for the drug, making their normal dose potentially fatal upon their release from jail or prison.
The most effective medications for treatment of opioid addiction and for rescue during overdose are not universally available.
Non-opioid alternatives for pain are underutilized.