The State of the Opioid Epidemic in 2021


The rate of opioid usage, and subsequent opioid addiction, in the United States is at a record high. The adverse effects of these opioids, including prescribed painkillers, fentanyl, and heroin, is causing socio-economic turmoil and a public health crisis. These effects have only gotten worse with the current COVID-19 pandemic. Here's an inside look at the current state of the opioid epidemic.

A brief overview of the ongoing opioid crisis

In the 1990's, the promise that effective pain relievers, known as opioids, wouldn't become addictive to users caused prescriptions to skyrocket. This widespread usage became highly controversial and dangerous once it became known that these drugs were, in fact, highly addictive. The usage of these opioid painkillers became more widespread and overdose rates increased exponentially. Many people are prescribed these opioids for pain and they are misused by up to 29% of these patients.

In the year 2017 alone, more than 47,000 Americans died of an overdose of an opiod including fentanyl, a synthetic form of opioid that's prevalent in more rural, impoverished areas. Also in 2017, studies show over 1.7 million people dealt with substance abuse disorders stemming from the use of opioids. There were also over 652,000 cases of heroin abuse disorders. The number of overdoses increased in 2019 with over 50,000 deaths.

Today, this rampant rise in opioid use and overdoses is seen as a public health crisis. Alongside this crisis, healthcare costs are steadily on the rise due to addiction treatments and spread of infectious diseases from injectable opioids. There are additional reports of neonatal abstinence syndrome in babies who have withdrawal side effects after they're born due to a mother's use of opioids during pregnancy. 

How COVID-19 has impacted the opioid epidemic

The COVID-19 pandemic is not just about the coronavirus. Health providers and public health officials have been monitoring the effects of restrictions, job losses, and isolation due to quarantine on those who may suffer from opioid substance abuse issues. The pandemic has stunted the progress of addiction treatments and management centers that require in-person contact to assess treatment progress.

Many feared the pandemic would worsen the amount of opioid usage and overdoses. New provisional data from the CDC show these fears have been realized. According to the statistics, there was a large spike in overdoses at the start of the pandemic. Opioid overdose accounted for 75% of all overdoses in those early months. The most recent data shows a 27% increase in deaths from September 2019 - August 2020 as compared to the previous year with a projected 90,000 overdose deaths in the year 2020. The new presidential administration is using this data to propel funding and resources for those suffering from opioid usage.

These staggering statistics show just how rampant the opioid crisis is in the US and how the pandemic may be increasing overdoses. Are you or a family member struggling with an opioid addiction? Wellspring's online self-help referral tool can assist you in finding the help you and your loved ones need to recover.

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