Special Report

How Drug Overdose Is a Leading Cause of Death Among Young People

America is hooked on pain-relieving opioids. In 2015, more than 33,000 Americans died as a result of an opioid overdose, including prescription opioids, heroin, and illicitly manufactured fentanyl, a synthetic opioid.

In 2015, an estimated 2 million people in the United States suffered from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers. Every day, 91 Americans die from overdosing on opioids. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the economic burden of prescription opioid misuse in the United States is $78.5 billion a year.

There is plenty of blame to go around. Many point to doctors for overprescribing pain medications. A recent study found that 1 in 12 physicians received a payment involving opioids from the pharmaceutical industry. In addition, legislators may not be doing enough to oversee drug companies and doctors. The recession and high joblessness at the time also contributed to drug addiction.

“Beginning in the 1990s, many pharmaceutical companies aggressively marketed opioids for the treatment of chronic, non-cancer pain,’’ said Brandon Marshall, who co-authored a study published in the American Journal of Public Health on payments to doctors from drug companies that sell painkillers. “In many cases these marketing efforts did not appropriately acknowledge the potential side effects of opioid therapy, which include overdose and addiction. Both the pace and scale of the national response need to be increased significantly if we are to turn the tide on this epidemic over the next decade.”

In a recent story, 24/7 Wall St. highlighted accidental poisoning, primarily drug overdose, as the leading cause of death among young people in the United States — surpassing car crashes and gun-related fatalities. About 1 in every 5 deaths of people 18 to 34 years old are caused by unintentional poisoning. Most drug overdose deaths, about 60%, involve opioids such as heroin and prescription drugs.

Click here to see the leading cause of death among young people.

To address the opioid epidemic, the CDC last year suggested opioid-prescription guidelines that are being followed by some states. The guidelines are intended for primary-care providers who account for prescribing nearly half of all opioid prescriptions. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is focusing its efforts on improving access to treatment and recovery services, promoting use of overdose-reversing drugs, creating better public health surveillance, and advocating other ways to manage pain.