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Why is America Addicted to Opioid Pain Relievers?

Opioid medications, sometimes known as pain relievers, are the most widely prescribed class of drugs worldwide. While the United States represents about five percent of the world’s population, it consumes 80 percent of the global opioid supply. Not surprisingly, the U.S. is also suffering from the most severe opioid addiction and overdose crisis it has ever experienced. But, this didn’t happen overnight. Several factors contributed to the unprecedented use – and misuse – of opioids in this country.

Alcohol: America’s #1 Addiction Problem

More than 2 million Americans are addicted to opioids, ranging from the illegal drugs heroin and fentanyl to the prescription medications OxyContin and Vicodin, yet eight times as many people misuse or are addicted to a substance that is more widely available and easier to access. This substance is alcohol. Despite the fact that it has largely retreated from public consciousness in the context of the current opioid epidemic, research shows that rates of alcohol misuse and addiction are on the rise.

Lipi Roy, M.D., M.P.H. on Addiction, Incarceration and What Comes Next

Dr. Roy is an internal medicine physician board certified in addiction medicine and a clinical assistant professor at the New York University Department of Population Health. As the former Chief of Addiction Medicine for New York City jails, including Rikers Island, she oversaw addiction treatment and recovery efforts for the city's incarcerated men and women. Previously, she was on faculty at Harvard Medical School and a primary care doctor to Boston's homeless population, among whom the leading cause of death was drug overdose.

Following her participation in our Addiction Speaker Series, we interviewed Dr. Roy to learn more about drug addiction as it relates to the criminal justice system.

Drug Use Disorder vs. Drug Misuse - What is the Difference?

In 2016, approximately 2.1 million Americans over the age of 11 suffered from addiction to opioids such as the prescription pain medications OxyContin and Vicodin or the illegal drug heroin. Yet, 11.8 million people – nearly six times as many – reported misusing opioids, primarily prescription medications.

Although it does not receive the same media attention as addiction – clinically known as opioid use disorder - this startling figure highlights a serious yet often overlooked problem within our society: the issue of opioid misuse.

The Surging Price of the Overdose Reversal Drug, Naloxone

As the opioid epidemic continues and the number of overdose deaths climbs, naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug also known by the brand name Narcan, has become even more important. While it’s not a treatment for opioid addiction, naloxone has the ability to bring individuals experiencing an overdose back from the brink of death. Because of its life-saving abilities, public health leaders agree it is essential that naloxone remain widely accessible to medical centers, first responders and private citizens.

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