U.S. Opioid Epidemic

Opioids are drugs, such as morphine and heroin, that are naturally derived from the opium poppy plant. They are also a class of strong painkillers that are human-made  to mimic the sedative effects of those plant-derived drugs. Common names are fentanyl, OxyContin, and Vicodin. Opioids are prescribed for short term acute pain relief for conditions such as cancer pain, end-of-life care, dentistry and post-surgery care. At lower doses, opioids may make users feel sleepy, but higher doses can slow breathing and heart rate, which can lead to death. In 2019, nearly 50,000 people in the United States died from opioid-involved overdoses.


Starting in the late 1990s, there was a rapid growth in the use of prescription opioids. Once touted as the non-addictive treatment for pain, these drugs were later found to be highly addictive and often led to widespread misuse—these facts minimized by pharmaceutical companies for years. Opioid deaths tripled from 2000 to 2015. 


Women—due to factors such as chronic conditions, domestic abuse, and childbirth pain—and adolescents—in part due to sports injuries and dental surgeries—are more likely to be prescribed opioids. Adolescents and young adults are especially susceptible to the effects of opioids because of their undeveloped frontal cortex. 


Attention to this epidemic has focused primarily on White suburban and rural communities. Less attention has focused on Black and brown communities which are similarly experiencing dramatic increases in opioid misuse and overdose deaths. The rate of increase among Black and brown  populations from drug overdose deaths between 2015-2016 was 40 percent compared to the overall population increase at 21 percent. 


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.

Resources & Tools


First page of
Navigating the Opioid and Substance Use Data Landscape: Strategies to Assemble Data and Bridge Gaps
Resource - Guide/handbook
Brought to you by IP3
Published on 03/07/2022
Cover page for Pain in the Nation report
Pain in the Nation
Resource
Brought to you by Well Being Trust
A person filling a pill container
Prescribe Safe: Combating Opioid Abuse
Story - Written
Brought to you by 100MHL
Screen capture of Faces of an Epidemic
Faces of an Epidemic
Story - Written
Brought to you by TNY
A graphic depicting the domains of the Opioid and Substance Use Framework.
An Introduction to the Opioid and Substance Use Framework
Story - Original
Brought to you by Community Commons
Published on 05/21/2024
Screen capture of Public Transit Agencies Join the Fight to Curb Overdose Deaths article
Public Transit Agencies Join the Fight to Curb Overdose Deaths
Story - Written
Brought to you by Bloomberg L.P.
Published on 01/18/2024
Screen shot of the headline of the story
A Collision of Epidemics: Coronavirus Disrupts Addiction Treatment
Story - Written
Brought to you by CalMatters
Photo of pharmacy shelves stocked with boxes of medication
Growing Accessibility of Opioids in Rural Areas
Story - Original
Brought to you by Community Commons
Published on 02/21/2017
Screen capture of Is Your Local Coffee Shop a Low-Key Opioid Clinic?
Is Your Local Coffee Shop a Low-Key Opioid Clinic?
Story - Written
Brought to you by The Atlantic
Screen capture of The Addicts Next Door
The Addicts Next Door
Story - Written
Brought to you by TNY
cover of pain in the nation report
Our Need for a National Resilience Strategy
Story - Original
Brought to you by Community Commons
Published on 11/21/2017
Photo of a large quantity of pills of different sizes, shapes, and colors
Navigating the Opioid Crisis
Story - Original
Brought to you by Community Commons
Screen shot of the headline of the story
Holistic Health and Wellness Expo
Story - Written
Brought to you by KU Center for Community Health and Development: Community Tool Box
Screen shot of the headline of the story
Safe Medication Collection
Story - Written
Brought to you by KU Center for Community Health and Development: Community Tool Box
Cover page of Overview of Opioid Treatment Program Regulations by State
Overview of Opioid Treatment Program Regulations by State
Resource - Policy Brief
Brought to you by The Pew Charitable Trusts
Screen shot of the front cover of the report
Tackling America’s Mental Health and Addiction Crisis Through Primary Care Integration
Resource - Report
Brought to you by Bipartisan Policy Center Inc.
Screenshot of the front page of Opioid Treatment Program Directory
Opioid Treatment Program Directory
Resource - Data Bank/repository
Screen capture of Maximizing Public Benefit From Opioid Settlement Resources
Maximizing Public Benefit From Opioid Settlement Resources
Resource - Journal Article
Brought to you by Milbank Memorial Fund
Screen capture of Strategies for Effectively Allocating Opioid Settlement Funds
Strategies for Effectively Allocating Opioid Settlement Funds
Resource - Guide/handbook
Brought to you by RAND Corporation
CLOUD Opioid Library
Resource - Website/webpage
Brought to you by Center for Evidence Based Policy
First page of A Systems Approach to The Opioid Epidemic brief
A Systems Approach to The Opioid Epidemic
Resource
Brought to you by Georgia Health Policy Center
Addressing-Data-Gaps-Opioid
Addressing Data and Information Gaps Contributing to Opioid Use Disorder
Resource - Policy Brief
Brought to you by Network for Excellence in Health Innovation
Screenshot of the front page of Pain in the Nation 2023
Pain in the Nation 2023
Resource - Report
First page of Opioid Epidemic fact sheet
Spotlight: Opioid Epidemic
Resource - Fact Sheet
Brought to you by Well Being Trust
didgwálič Wellness Center Treatment Model Fact Sheet
Resource - Fact Sheet
Brought to you by Swinomish Indian Tribal Community
Cover page of A Public Health Guide to Ending the Opioid Epidemic
A Public Health Guide to Ending the Opioid Epidemic
Resource - Report
Brought to you by OUP
Legal Interventions to Reduce Overdose Mortality
Legal Interventions to Reduce Overdose Mortality: Naloxone Access and Overdose Good Samaritan Laws
Resource - Fact Sheet
Brought to you by Public Health Law Center
Webpage of Detox Local
Detox Local
Resource - Website/webpage
Photo of two people sharing a bench. Photo by Külli Kittus on Unsplash
Bright Spot: Prize Incentives Contingency Management for Substance Abuse
Resource - Model Policy
Brought to you by 100MHL
Screen capture of Opioid Prescriptions Dashboards - ACH
Opioid Prescriptions Dashboards - ACH
Tool - Data/mapping Tool

Data & Metrics


 Related Topics


Card image
Substance Use

Card image
Mental and Behavioral Health