The United States has been the epicenter for the opioid crisis, and it all began nearly 30 years ago. The epidemic started when pharmaceutical representatives assured medical communities that patients would not become addicted to opioid pain relievers, which led healthcare providers to prescribe opioids at much higher rates.
After several years, the U.S. Government realized that the problem was growing out of control. Increased availability of opioid medications led to the misuse and abuse of both prescription and non-prescription opioids.
The current rates show that 130 people die every day from opioid-related drug overdoses nationwide, and nearly 10.3 million people misused their prescriptions in 2018. An estimated two million people were diagnosed with an opioid use disorder in the same year, and 81,000 people used heroin for the first time.
As we can see, the crisis is not limited to one specific region in the country. Although states like California remain under the national average for overdose deaths, the state has still been hit particularly hard.
The statistics released by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) describe 2,199 overdose deaths that involved opioids in 2017 in California. The number translates to a rate of 5.3 deaths per 100,000 persons, which is lower than the national rate of 14.6 deaths per 100,000 persons. The primary driver behind overdose deaths involved prescription opioids, with 1,169 deaths in 2017.
Unfortunately, the most significant increase in overdose deaths involving opioids stemmed from synthetic opioids (mainly fentanyl). It accounted for a more than twofold rise from 229 to 536 over a span of two years. Heroin overdose deaths also increased in the same period from 593 in 2012 to 715 in 2017.
In 2017, doctors in California wrote 39.5 opioid prescriptions per 100,000 persons. It was the lowest prescribing rate in the United States and significantly lower than 58.7 per 100,000 person prescriptions, which is the national average. These numbers showed a positive correlation, however, and the lower opioid prescriptions accounted for a decrease in deaths from 2014 to 2017.
Between the years 2013 and 2016, 15,616 newborns were diagnosed with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) in California hospitals, which translates to 3,409 infants per year. Los Angeles, San Mateo, and Santa Clara accounted for the lowest rates of hospital births with infants diagnosed with NAS, whereas Shasta, Humboldt, and Trinity counties were the highest.
In 2016, 4,961 new HIV cases occurred in California. Males accounted for eight percent of new cases, while females accounted for 17.2 percent of new cases. In 2015, an estimated 133,079 individuals in California were living with a diagnosed HIV infection at a rate of 376 cases per 100,000 persons. Fourteen percent of cases were male, while another 23.4 percent were female.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019, March 29). California Opioid Summary. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/opioid-summaries-by-state/california-opioid-summary
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016, June 6). Fentanyl. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/fentanyl
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Prescription Opioids. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-opioids
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019, January 22). Opioid Overdose Crisis. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/opioid-overdose-crisis
Public Affairs. (n.d.). What is the U.S. Opioid Epidemic? from https://www.hhs.gov/opioids/about-the-epidemic/index.html