The entire nation, including the Philadelphia region, has been plagued by the opioid epidemic. Based on recently released CDC data, 2015 particularly marked a drastic and historic rise in opioid overdose-related deaths, with the deaths exceeding 30,000. Compared to similar deaths from 2014, almost 5,000 more people died last year as a result of overdosing on powerful synthetic opioid medications like fentanyl. In other words, there was an almost 75% increase in deaths in 2015 when compared to 2014.
There has been a rise in heroin-related deaths too, with over 2,000 more cases reported in 2015 when compared to the year before it. Yet, 2015 became the opposite of the late 1990s, because traditional painkilling opioid medications like hydrocodone and oxycodone took more lives than heroin. According to the CDC, the opioid epidemic is only worsening. Apparently, not only are people misusing prescription opioid painkillers, they have even added illegally manufactured fentanyl and heroin to the mix, making these problematic matters even more complicated.
Judging from the opioid death data that the CDC has provided, drugs from multiple categories are responsible for these deaths. People who died from opioid overdoses had often taken a cocktail of multiple different drugs, including various types of opioids. Others who overdosed had even taken opioids along with alcohol and other similar substances. The nationwide drug epidemic actually hit a rather dreadful milestone last year. In 2015, heroin overdoses resulted in a much larger number of deaths than gun homicides did. Back to 2007, the ratio of gun homicide-related deaths versus those resulting from heroin overdoses was 5:1.
To make matters even worse, the nationwide mortality rate from a wide range of causes keeps on increasing year after year, and the heroin and opioid epidemic keeps adding to that. For the very first time since 1993, the life expectancy in the United States has taken a downward spiral. Recently, a spending bill was passed by Congress to contribute $1 billion towards fighting opioid epidemic, as well as devising new, effective prevention and treatment measures for addiction.
Communities and families throughout the nation continue to be ravaged and traumatized by the heroin and prescription opioid epidemic. One of the major contributing factors and reasons behind this is that effective substance abuse/misuse disorder treatment is still not available to many people. Thus, the recent $1 billion funding will hopefully make treatment more accessible on a much larger scale.
Furthermore, the origin of the present opioid dilemma can be traced back to the drastic rise in the use of prescription painkilling medications between the late 90s and early 2000s. Many of the U.S. citizens who used opioid painkillers back in those days have ended up becoming addicts and depedenton drugs. It was only until the late 2000s that more strict restrictions were issued by both federal- and state-level authorities. Consequently, those people have turned to the illicit drugs market, contributing to the surging heroin epidemic that is equally severe.
According to drug policy reformers, the epidemic will keep on growing and cannot be reversed simply by incarcerating all those who use illegal and off-label drugs. In fact, it will further urge people against seeking assistance and treatment. The more effective solution is for society as a whole to take a stand to prevent people from getting addicted in the first place and making effective treatment more accessible to those who truly need it.