In the United States, the number of opioid-related visits to the emergency room has sharply increased in recent years, according to federal data.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released this week shows that emergency room visits for suspected opioid overdoses has risen 30% between July 2016 and September 2017.
States in the Red Belt region have been hit the hardest by this growing public health crisis. In Wisconsin, opioid-related emergency room visits have increased by 108%. In Pennsylvania, visits are up 80%, and in Illionois, visits have increased by 65%. Ohio and Indiana have also seen a sharp increase in overdose visits.
“Opioids stimulate the brain’s reward system,” says New World Detox Center. “Continuous use eventually leads to tolerance and dependence on the drug, to the point where the brain needs it to function normally, something users call ‘maintaining.'”
Opioid overdoses killed approximately 33,000 Americans in 2015, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. In 2001, fewer than 10,000 Americans died due to opioid abuse.
The crisis appears to have originated in rural America among low-income white Americans. Now, larger urban areas are affected as well as minority communities. Minorities now account for the fastest growth among deaths and overdoses related to opioid use.
The Office of the Medical Examiner in Washington, D.C. said overdose deaths among black men aged 40-69 has increased by 245% from 2014 through 2017.
Dr. Melissa Clarke, who works at Medical Home, told NPR that fentanyl is the root cause of a drug epidemic affecting African-American communities.
“African-Americans are falling victim to fentanyl and carfentanyl because they are so much more potent than heroin,” she said.
Since the turn of the century, the number of drug overdose deaths has more than tripled. In 2016, an estimated 64,000 people died from drug overdoses.
The rise in opioid-related deaths has sparked the passing of legislation restricting the drug, which has only fueled the illicit market. When prescription opioids are less available, heroin and fentanyl fill the demand.
The number of prescriptions written for opioids has flattened out after more than a decade of exponential growth. Those drugs are now being replaced with illicit fentanyl, which is a synthetic opioid. The drug can be shipped to the U.S. in a small, discreet package.
The Department of Health and Human Services has labeled the opioid crisis a public health emergency. The Trump administration has also held several meetings on the issue.
Some experts say that pharmaceutical manufacturers should be held partially responsible for the crisis they helped create. Production quotas, limits on marketing campaigns and taxes have all been suggested as means of holding the industry accountable for the crisis.
More than 100 lawsuits have been filed against opioid manufacturers by states, cities and counties across the country. The Justice Department is expected to file a statement of interest in an Ohio case, according to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Lawsuits address the sale of legal opioids, but they do little to address the growing illicit market of fentanyl and other illegal drugs.