The opioid crisis in the United States has hit a new milestone. It has become so bad that the president of the United States declared the opioid crisis a national emergency Thursday.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a statement Friday in response to what the president said about the crisis. (See statement below.)
On Thursday, President Donald J. Trump said the following:
“The opioid crisis is an emergency, and I’m saying officially right now it is an emergency. It’s a national emergency. We’re going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money on the opioid crisis. We’re going to draw it up, and we’re going to make it a national emergency.
“It is a serious problem the likes of which we have never had. You know when I was growing up they had the LSD and they had certain generations of drugs. There’s never been anything like what’s happened to this country over the last four or five years. And I have to say this in all fairness, this is a worldwide problem, not just a United States problem. This is happening worldwide. But this is a national emergency, and we are drawing documents now to so attest.”
According to an article published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) in June 2017, every day, more than 90 Americans die after overdosing on opioids. The misuse of and addiction to opioids—including prescription pain relievers, heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl—is a serious national crisis that affects public health as well as social and economic welfare. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the total “economic burden” of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion a year, including the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.
In the same article, the NIDA explains how the opioid crisis took shape:
In the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies reassured the medical community that patients would not become addicted to prescription opioid pain relievers, and healthcare providers began to prescribe them at greater rates. This subsequently led to widespread diversion and misuse of these medications before it became clear that these medications could indeed be highly addictive. Opioid overdose rates began to increase. In 2015, more than 33,000 Americans died as a result of an opioid overdose, including prescription opioids, heroin, and illicitly manufactured fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid. That same year, an estimated 2 million people in the United States suffered from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers, and 591,000 suffered from a heroin use disorder (not mutually exclusive).
Here is what we know about the opioid crisis:
- Roughly 21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them.
- Between 8 and 12 percent develop an opioid use disorder.
- An estimated 4 to 6 percent who misuse prescription opioids transition to heroin.
- About 80 percent of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids.
This issue has become a public health crisis with devastating consequences including increases in opioid misuse and related overdoses, as well as the rising incidence of neonatal abstinence syndrome due to opioid use and misuse during pregnancy. The increase in injection drug use has also contributed to the spread of infectious diseases including HIV and Hepatitis C. As seen throughout the history of medicine, science can be an important part of the solution in resolving such a public health crisis.
Below is the full statement from the attorney general as it appears on the Department of Justice website Friday:
Statement by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on President Trump Directing the Administration to Use All Appropriate Authority to Respond to the Opioid Emergency
Attorney General Jeff Sessions today issued the following statement to President Trump, directing the administration to use all appropriate authority to respond to the opioid emergency:
“I applaud President Trump for his leadership in taking this drastic and necessary measure to confront an opioid crisis that is devastating communities around the country and ripping families apart. The death toll of this horrific epidemic reached 60,000 people in 2016, but as horrible as it is to think of that number, it is worse when we look past the staggering statistic and see our children, our moms and dads, sisters and brothers, friends and co-workers. This nation has never seen overdose deaths anywhere close to these numbers, and for each death, many more suffer debilitating addictions.
“Just last week the Department of Justice announced its new Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit and we continue to follow the President’s lead and use every tool we have to combat this deadly crisis.”
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