Using its ability to compile estimates of drug deaths from hundreds of state health departments and medical examiners, The New York Times reports a still-shocking truth: Drug overdoses are the leading cause of death in Americans under the age of 50.
Yes, it will take the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention longer to compile a definitive set of statistics, but The Times’ account is compelling, with numbers representing 76 percent of overdose deaths in 2015 and estimating that such deaths in 2016 went past 59,000, which would represent the largest year-to-year increase in history. That’s an estimated 19 percent increase in one year. The newspaper labels the problem a “modern plague.” That seems exactly right.
The culprit, of course, is opiods, now not just legal painkillers (at least legal by limited prescription) but drugs now illegally manufactured. The pattern of many who succumb is a beginning with prescription painkillers and having a dependence escalate into a heroin addiction or an addiction to comparable drugs, some much more powerful than heroin.
President Trump has vowed to face the crisis as an emergency. It is.
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The number of those dependent on opiods is pegged at 2 million, but just as frightening is that 95 million people in this country used prescription pain killers in the last year, according to federal officials. It’s quite true that not everyone who uses pain killers for a short-term problem winds up dependent. But the opiod crisis shows the risk is perhaps far greater than anyone has realized until now.